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Sorin Sabou

Letter to the Romans, Nicomachean Ethics, and more

Francis Bacon and the Idols of the Mind

This aspect of Bacon’s thinking is about the way we use our minds. According to Bacon there are ‘four classes of idols that beset men’s minds’ (New Organon, 1.39; Russell 2009, 439). Bacon uses the term ‘idol’ not in a religious sense (an image that represents a god), but simply as an ‘image’ (from the Greek eidolon). The way he organizes them helps the reader to understand the way they hinder human’s mind. Bacon sees them in ‘classes’ and in this way points towards their complexity and particularities.
The ‘idols of the tribe’ ‘have their foundation in the human nature itself’ (New Organon, 1.41). The human intellect is like ‘a distorting mirror’. This distorted image leads to a mixture between our own nature and the nature of things (Simpson, 2005; Klein, 2012). The end result is a distorted subjectivity mentally conceived.
The ‘idols of the cave’ are the idols of every individual. The reference to the ‘cave’ or to the ‘den’ is that every human has its own (Lea and Urbach, 2013; Klein, 2012), and according to that, s/he ‘corrupts the light of nature’ (New Organon, 1.42). The particularities of everyones’ life are brought into play and they will have a saying about the way that individual interacts with the world.
The ‘idols of the market’ are the idols ‘formed my men’s agreements and associations with each other’ (New Organon, 1.43). Because we use words in our associations with one another, we face a very complex situation. Our words reflect our ‘ways of thinking’, and the ‘intellect is hindered by wrong or poor choices of words’ (New Organon, 1.43; Lea and Urbach, 2013; Simpson, 2005). The result among people is confusion, empty disputes, and idle fancies.
The ‘idols of theatre’ have their source in ‘various philosophical dogmas and topsy-turvy laws of demonstration’ (New Organon, 1.44). Every system leads to create a ‘fictitious staged world of its own’ (New Organon, 1.44; Russell 439, 2009).
All these idols can be kept at bay if we ‘form ideas and axioms by true induction’ (New Organon, 1.40).

Bacon, Francis. The New Organon. 1620.
Klein, Jürgen, "Francis Bacon", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
Lea, Kathleen Marguerite and Urbach, Peter Michael. Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam ." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013.
Russell, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. Oxon, Routlege. 2009. Kindle Edition.
Simpson, David. www.iep.utm.edu/bacon/ 2005.
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