“Forward not back” was Labour’s slogan at the last election, and how we sophisticates sniggered! But the concept of progress—that history might have direction, that things might get better or knowledge advance—is a surprisingly recent one. It was formulated exactly 400 years ago, in 1605, when Francis Bacon wrote The Advancement of Learning.
Bacon was a lawyer and politician. He was born in London in 1561 to a prosperous family, his father being lord keeper of the great seal. Following the custom of the day, Francis was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, at the age of 12, but he left…
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