Ninth Edition CoverGraziano & Raulin
Research Methods (9th edition)

Roger Bacon (ca 1214-1294) was an English Franciscan friar and philosopher, who studied optics, mathematics, and natural sciences. He is credited, but perhaps erroneously, with many inventions. For example, he created an explosive substance (later known as gunpowder) by mixing sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal. Actually that had already been invented in the East, but perhaps Bacon had rediscovered it. 

Bacon believed that mathematics applied to observation is the only means of arriving at an understanding of nature. He taught there are four errors or “obstacles in grasping truth,” and every person becomes “entangled” in these errors. They are (1) submission to faulty authority; (2) acceptance of an idea because it is the long-standing custom to do so, (3) accepting an idea that is based on popular prejudice, and (4) an ostentatious show of knowledge. This show of knowledge occurs when a person argues from any combination of authority, custom, and prejudice, thus expounding clearly erroneous ideas with great conviction. Bacon’s authority and custom have survived as the current ideas of authority and tenacity, which were discussed in Chapter 1 in the section on Acquiring Knowledge.

Bacon believed that knowledge was gained through reason and experience. Reason, he argued, can lead us to suppositions (in our current terminology, hypotheses), but cannot verify them. Verification requires experience. Creating critical experiences by manipulating the environment, a process known as experimenting, provides the critical test for hypotheses. Thus, for Bacon, the interplay of reason and experimentation was the route to knowledge, and this interplay is the basis for natural science. 

Experience is the ultimate criterion. One example used by Bacon is the (then) established idea that hot water freezes more quickly than cold water. This conclusion was based on the accepted principle that contrary excites contrary. Thus, hot water, being contrary to freezing weather, will be more quickly “excited” toward freezing than will cold water, which is not so “contrary” to the freezing conditions. For most persons, Bacon argued, the reasoning alone is sufficient to establish the truth of the idea. For Bacon, however, another step is needed--put hot water in one vessel, cold water in another, place both outside in freezing weather, and observe which freezes first! That is the process of experimenting. Clearly, knowledge is arrived at finally with the experience component.

Bacon helped to re-establish experimentation in science, which had been introduced by the Ionians (see Thales, Hippocrates, Strato), but was lost for over a thousand years. In doing so, he influenced the development of modern science. He was one of the people who kept science alive during the 13th Century.

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