“Francis Bacon’s Concept of Objectivity and the Idols of the Mind”

Zagorin, P. “Francis Bacon’s Concept of Objectivity and the Idols of the Mind.” British Journal for the History of Science 34 (2001): 379–93.

Abstract: “This paper examines the concept of objectivity traceable in Francis Bacon’s natural philosophy. After some historical background on this concept, it considers the question of whether it is not an anachronism to attribute such a concept to Bacon, since the word ‘objectivity’ is a later coinage and does not appear anywhere in his writings. The essay gives reasons for answering this question in the negative, and then criticizes the accounts given of Bacon’s understanding of objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Julie Robin Solomon. It argues that this understanding is most directly and fully expressed in his discussion of the idols of the mind. In this connection, the paper notes Bacon’s critical attitude to sixteenth-century scepticism and its relevance to the idea of objectivity implicit in his comments on the idols. In conclusion, the paper argues that Bacon was not a pure empiricist and describes the place assigned to theories and hypotheses in his natural philosophy.”