indication that Bacon acknowledged a similarity, albeit restricted, between the skeptical
percept of the whole of human knowledge and his own, as he finds himself at the
beginning of investigation, that is to say, at the very moment when his reflection turns
to a future project that has not been fully developed and is fraught with difficulties, as
he constantly stresses.
A second point, quite similar to this last one, has to do with the “doctrine of the
idols”, the centre of the pars destruens, in which Bacon distinguishes four types of
impediments to our expectations of gaining access to truth: the “Idols of the Tribe”
(idola tribus), that follow from the imperfections of our faculties of knowledge — the
intellect, as a deforming mirror that mixes its own nature with the nature of things when
exposed to their rays, falsifying and shuffling them; or, even, as a faculty that becomes
a hostage of the systematic mistakes that it cannot rectify by itself, neither through its
own powers nor through dialectic;
the imperfections of the senses, which are weak and
and strengthen them,
in spite of the fact that the senses constitute the very field to
be delirious”, as he says. Next are the “Idols of the Cave” (idola specus), created,
according to Bacon, by the multiplicity typical of each individual, and depending on the
differences of the body, soul, education, habit, casual circumstances and also the way
they are affected by objects. The “Idols of the Marketplace” (idola fori) are, in turn,
those that can be found in the imperfections of human language, whereas the “Idols of
the Theatre” (idola theatri) are those by means of which Bacon metaphorically alludes
to the imaginary worlds made up of the different philosophical systems, which are
See N.O., I, §14, §§45-52 and also Sp. I, 121-129.
“matter” and so forth), as well as by insufficient proofs, which are, in his words, the
systems in potentiality.
his relations with skepticism occupy strategic positions regarding the exposition of this
More precisely, the first of them in order of exposition is the above-
between the previous movement of the text — where the commitments of the logic
which operates in research are discussed, as well as the difficulties in establishing a
suitable method for the investigation, and exposition, of the idols. It thus marks the
beginning of the exposition of the idols, whereas the next aphorism dedicated to the
subject (I § 67) takes up the counterpoint with a predominantly critical slant — the
skeptics are accused of an intemperance in abolishing assent similar to the intemperance
that dogmatic philosophers display when subscribing to their doctrines, and of adopting
a position which, even when they leave room for investigation, leads to it being
abandoned due to their despair of reaching the truth — and paves the way, in the next
aphorism, for the following remark: “That is enough about the different types of Idols,
and their equipage”
. Thus, however much the slow progression of Bacon’s text may
repetitions of previously introduced terms are frequent,
these aphorisms indicate that
Sp. I, 138; N.O. I, §50.
N.O. I, §68; See N.O. I §44, §61.
Cf. GRANADA, p. 4
N.O. I, §68, Sp I, 179, IV, 69.
It is no easy task to establish a clear division of the logical moments in the progression of this text. In spite of what
criticism of faulty demonstrations (which Bacon considered the rampart of the idols), offered in aphorisms 69-70,
as Malherbe does (cf. BACON, 1986, pp. 15-16). Moreover, it is not clear how the fourfold division of the species
of idols can be reconciled with the threefold one offered in I, §115, on which Spedding bases himself for his own
division (cf. Sp. I, pp. 165, 172)
of the idols. Although he does not state this explicitly, these references could be perhaps
read, according to the same hypothesis, as a sign of his proximity to the skeptics; this
would then allow us, in a more detailed approach, to delve deeper into the counterpoint
in a critical way, but only after the presentation of his own version of the critique of
human knowledge, as this doctrine formulates it. If this is so, these aphorisms would
indicate that Bacon focuses his affinities with skepticism primarily on the development
of that doctrine.
These two indications of the affinities between Bacon and skepticism, taken from
their interest lies in the fact that they allow us to transpose to a reading of Novum
parallel. In a concise text entitled Scala intellectus sive filum labyrinthi, composed, it
seems, as a preface to the homonymous part of the Magna instauratio, Bacon writes:
“(...) We cannot however absolutely deny that, if there was not an opposition to a society
is, that which proposes that “nothing is known”] that we would be more akin; we would
agree with much of their wise sayings and remarks on the variations of the senses and the
lack of firmness of the human judgement, and on the contention and suspension of assent.
To those we could add many other similar [remarks], to the point that between us and
them remains only this difference: they say that nothing is known simply [prorsus] and
we affirm that nothing can be known along the way the human race has up until now
See PRIOR (1968), p. 141
Sp II, p. 688.