to come up with a good answer to this question without carrying out a meticulous
examination of the content of that doctrine, in order to know how far it reproduces the
problems concerning the skeptical tradition, or offers us, in its possible innovations,
elements designed to outline an alternative way. We shall not enter this area of concern,
but it is worth stressing that Bacon’s acknowledgement of the power of the idols creates
an identification with the skeptical diagnosis that is frequently underestimated —
despite the way he stresses the built-in constraints in their position. Besides the text of
examines the difficulties arising from the absence of reliable principles and
demonstrative methods planned for the investigation of physics, he states:
[...] It was not without great and evident reason that so many philosophers, some of them
comprehension, affirming that the knowledge of man extend only to appearances and
It could be objected to our reading that the indications for a skeptical origin of the
to the identification of the skeptical sources that are philosophically relevant? Attempts
have been made to approximate this doctrine to the four “impediments to truth”
(offendicula veritatis) enumerated by Roger Bacon at the beginning of his Opus majus
— the use of an “insufficient authority”, custom, public opinion and the disguising of
ignorance together with the presumption of knowledge — but Spedding consistently
Sp. I, 621; IV, 411-412.
More recently, Deleule
to refer the notion of idolum to Platonism and Epicureanism, which he claims Bacon
mentioned explicitly — when he refers, for instance, to Cotta’s critique of Epicurean
anthropomorphism in Cicero’s De natura deorum.
However, it must be remembered
Academy, of which the author expresses his personal approval.
Bacon to the vocabulary of imagination and fantasy — as happens, for example, in his
approach to the “Idols of the Theatre”, which result from the way in which human
understanding allows itself to be led by the imagination.
This theme is familiar within
Empiricus himself refers to Plato’s theory of the soul as something “fanciful”, and
employs a term — eidolopoiesis — that, etymologically speaking, is related to the one
Bacon chose in his critique.
The same theme is expanded and developed in works that
he qualifies the concepts of natural philosophy as “dreams and fanciful follies”,
Cf. Sp. I, 163. According to Spedding, not only does the principle of classification differ in these two doctrines, but
also the problems enumerated by Roger Bacon are much more restricted (and could at best be related to the idola
fori and idola theatri). Moreover, he says, it is unlikely that Francis Bacon would have read his homonymous
philosopher, given the absence of printed editions of his work and the lack of signs of a specific interest in it.
BACON (1987), p. 36
See CICERO (1994), P. 11-14
Cf. N.O. I, §44, §15, §47.
See SEXTUS EMPIRICUS (1993), I, 189. We will refer to his Outlines of Pyrrhonism as HP. Sextus comments,
for instance, the Pythagorean theory of numbers in these terms: “Those are the fictions they imagine...” (HP III.
156) In HP III, 114, as he concludes his critical examination of the dogmatic notions of generation and corruption,
he says that their physics is “unreal and unconceivable”. The same Greek term is employed in the context of a
more general criticism of the dogmatists (see, for instance, HP II, 222).
MONTAIGNE (1993), p. 110: “...These are dreams and frantic folly. If only Nature would deign to open her breast