Terence Kealey's essay on Francis Bacon was a misunderstanding of practically everything about the founder of modern science—from his views on progress to his predilection for S&M and tortureby Pete Langman / November 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
>It seems odd that Terence Kealey associates Francis Bacon with the idea of progress, when the images Bacon conjures in the minds of most people are those of pederasty, frozen chickens and an unrequited desire for one of Queen Elizabeth’s beds.
It is yet more odd that Kealey considers Bacon to be a worthy advocate of anything, as since the magisterial triumvirate of Macaulay, Blake and Adorno described his Essays as “good advice for Satan’s kingdom,” Bacon scholars have spent most of their time trying to rehabilitate him. Kealey has his own axe to grind and, in what has become traditional fashion, has chosen to whet his blade with misrepresentations of Bacon’s thought, career, and personality.
Bacon, argues Kealey, associated technology with power. He thought that the best way to acquire and advance technology was through “pure science,” which should be funded by the state for the good of everybody. But Kealey attempts to demonstrate that pure science is discovered through technology, and that funding should be advanced through private or corporate models, thus allowing scientific advance to be directed by market forces. The idea that pure science should be state-funded, runs the argument, is a dusty relic of Bacon’s; governments merely hinder the development of new technology and science.
But the Baconian whetstone on which Kealey hones his ideas is at best selective, and at worst wildly inaccurate. “Knowledge is power” is Bacon’s most famous aphorism, and Kealey equates Baconian knowledge with technology. Unfortunately, Bacon never quite said this, and what he did say certainly didn’t concern technology. He first coined the phrase in 1597 as part of an argument concerning God’s foreknowledge. He explained, in dutifully Calvinistic terms, that God knew what would happen in the world because he had already ordained it: God’s knowledge is power, bec…