ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

349. The Personality of Bacon. -- Bacon attached great importance to the natural sciences, mathematics, perspective and optics, geography, astronomy, alchemy and the study of languages. He was remarkably well versed in the sciences -- better than any of his contemporaries. Not only did he make a powerful plea for the employment of the experimental method, but he was himself a skilled observer and experimenter. He surpassed the Arabians in some of his applications of geometry to physics; he constructed and improved optical instruments. Constantly and bitterly did he reproach his scholastic contemporaries with their negligent attitude towards scientific observation and research. Bacon was certainly remarkable as a scientist: it is his strongest title to renown.

He was fully au courant with every phase of the intellectual movement of his time, and for this reason his works form a valuable source for the history of ideas in the thirteenth century -- a source that has yet to be used to full advantage. They call, however, for some caution: Bacon's judgments on men and events must be taken with careful reserve; they are inspired by a discontent which often betrays him into injustice. An enthusiastic admirer of Aristotle, he blames his contemporaries for often misrepresenting the Stagirite in their faulty Latin versions of the latter's works. Better for them to know nothing at all of Aristotle than know him in such detestable caricatures! "Si enim haberem potestatem super libros Aristotelis, ego facerem omnes cremari."{1} On the earliest Latin versions of Aristotle,{2} on the state of studies in the Franciscan order, on the teaching of theology,{3} on many of the well-known scholastics -- William of Auvergne,{4} Robert Grossetête (of whom he speaks repeatedly), Adam of Marisco, Alexander of Hales,{5} Albert the Great{6} and several others -- Bacon has left us much valuable information, mingled as it oftentimes is with palpable exaggerations. The history of the Grecian, Patristic and Arabian philosophies receives detailed and extensive treatment at his hands:{7} for a special reason to which we shall presently revert. Written in a lively and vigorous style, his works do not follow the pedagogical order that was customary in his time, but are freely developed according to the needs of the matters under treatment.

{1} Compendium Philosophiae, BREWER, p. 469.

{2} See, e.g., Opus Majus, iii., p. 66.

{3} The "seven sins of theology," according to the Opus Minus (p. 322 sqq.), are: the incursions of theologians into the domain of pure philosophy; their ignorance of the sciences; the undeserved ascendancy accorded to the two principal theologians, Alexander of Hales and Albert the Great ("de aliis nulla est vis"); the preference accorded to the Book of the Sentences over the Bible; the corruptness of the Vulgate text of the latter; errors in exegesis; the ignorance of the preachers.

{4} Opus Majus, iii., p. 47.

{5} Opus Minus, pp. 325-27.

{6} Opus Tertium, p. 30.

{7} The Opus Majus, i., pp. 45-54, contains an outline of the history of philosophy.

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