Monday, March 8, 2010

Prerequisites for Understanding Bacon's Induction Part 2: Scholastic Natural Philosophy

Bacon can and should be read within different contexts, but the one most fundamental for understanding the Novum Organum as Bacon meant it to be understood is the Aristotelian. (Regula Socratis, p. 212)
(Novum Organum will be abbreviated as NO in my citations. And like my last note, a quote from Book 2, Aphorism 8 will be quoted as 2.8; so the complete quote would look like NO 2.8.)

Bacon's Attitude Towards the Scholastics

The Renaissance and Scholastic cultures that Bacon was raised in, and which influenced his thought, dominated the educational practices that existed in late 16th century England. As Bacon matured, he decided that he wanted to be a reformer in education and natural philosophy, in addition to his civil and political aspirations. He wished to reform how we were taught in the schools because of his growing disapproval of the attitude of Scholastic professors and natural philosophers around his time, especially with their limited usage of natural observations, and their reverence for the syllogism (which will be discussed shortly). Bacon's attitude towards them is well expressed in the very first sentences of the Novum Organum's Preface:
They who have presumed to dogmatize on Nature, as on some well-investigated subject, either from self-conceit or arrogance, and in the professorial style, have inflicted the greatest injury on philosophy and learning. For they have tended to stifle and interrupt inquiry exactly in proportion as they have prevailed in bringing others to their opinion: and their own activity has not counterbalanced the mischief they have occasioned by corrupting and destroying that of others. (NO, Preface)
Neither the Scholastics nor the majority of practicing natural philosophers in Bacon's time performed the kind of reasoning Bacon thought was necessary for understanding the true natures of things. "As the present sciences are useless for the discovery of effects, so the present system of logic [the syllogism] is useless for the discovery of the sciences (NO1.11)." Bacon criticizes the Scholastics for not applying the syllogism to the principles of sciences—they do not use the syllogism for deducing consequences of general principles (1.13). Indeed, Bacon thinks it does more harm than good: the syllogism uses ideas, composed into propositions, to deduce new conclusions, but this often leads to cementing erroneous and flawed thinking (1.12).

Bacon wishes to expose the flaws in Scholastic logic, and Aristotelian philosophy, and this is the essence of his confutation of the demonstrations (ibid, "Plan of the Work"). Understanding this Aristotelian background is necessary for understanding Bacon's criticisms, his solution of induction, and even the title of his book.

The Philosophy of the Scholastics

Syllogistic Demonstration

The Scholastic method of education consists of different kinds of disputations and dialectical arguments in order to answer questions. It trains students in utilizing deductive reasoning in the form of syllogisms, which are composed of propositions: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Here's an example of an syllogism:

Major Premise: (1) All sharp objects can cut cheese.
Minor Premise: (2) All knives are sharp objects.
Conclusion (by conversion of (1) and (2)): (3) All knives can cut cheese.

In general, a syllogism is a structured argument that deduces a conclusion from premises which are assumed to be true. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true in virtue of the premises' truth—this is what Aristotle called a "demonstration" (Posterior Analytics, book 1, ch. 2). In contrast to deductive reasoning is induction, which is typically described as an argument that reaches a universal conclusion by assembling a required number of particulars, in which the particulars become the premises. An induction would be understood as, "bishop X is unmarried; bishop Y is unmarried; bishop Z is unmarried, neither is there any bishops that are the contrary; Ergo (therefore), all bishops are unmarried."

Typical Scholastic period logic textbooks would have a wealth of material on the syllogism, cataloging its various forms (variations of All X...Some X....No X, which number in the hundreds), composition, its 4 figures, conversion rules, and so on. The space provided for induction, on the other hand, was always slim: covering a few pages, if that. The importance of induction went broadly unrecognized; its reliability and certainty was an unresolved, and seemingly unproblematic, matter.

Aristotelian Metaphysics

The epistemology of the Scholastics was heavily informed by Aristotle's philosophy. (Or, what they took to be Aristotle's philosophy.) The metaphysics of Scholasticism was no different. It was a combination of Aristotle's theories in logic, physics, and metaphysics. To give somewhat of a summary of this:

In the Scholastic philosophy, there were two fundamental categories of existence or being: substances and accidents, the very same distinction that Aristotle made in his work the Categories. Substances are things, like people and desks, and accidents were said to be "in" substances, something that is said in reference to substances. So a quantity is a sort of span covered, such as time and space, or the number of things (like three trees); quality is something that belongs to a substance, such as disease or health, a habit for knowledge, or hardness (I'll note that accidents can have other accidents as characteristics: a disease (quality) may last only a certain time (quantity), for instance). Relation has to do with things being compared, such as father and son, master and slave, large and small. Action is doing something, such as standing, and passion is being acted upon, such as being pushed down. (There are other categories, but they're not essential to understanding Bacon's criticism, so I'm moving on to my next topic.)

The Scholastic physics was peppered with Aristotelian vocabulary, as well. Objects are made of matter, and composed of certain elements. These elements are fire (hot and dry), water (cold and wet), earth (dry and cold), air (wet and hot), and the aether, which composes the heavenly bodies and spheres. Fire and air tend to rise above the surface of other things and are thereby light, while earth and water tend to sink or stay below other things, and so are heavy. Generation is when things come to be, and corruption when things are destroyed and cease to be ("destroyed" doesn't necessarily mean an active force intervening, it could be a natural, peaceful death, for instance). In addition to these two alternatives are different sorts of changes: growth and diminution as changes in size, alteration as a change in quality, locomotion as a change of place. Lastly, there's actuality and potentiality, in which things have actual positions, qualities, and other accidents, and certain potentialities that can be actualized when certain conditions are met. A child is potentially a grown man; a man is potentially a carpenter, and needs training and tools to become an actual one; a seed is potentially a willow, and will actually be a desk after certain human actions are carried out.

Bacon's New Instrument vs. The Scholastic's Organon

Points of Disagreement

If there's any point of agreement between Bacon's new logic, and the old logic of the Scholastics, it is that they both wanted to add artificial helps and supports to the mind; this implied a lack of confidence in the unaided processes, and thinking, of people's minds (NO, Preface). This, perhaps, is the only similarity; the differences between the two logics are, "great, indeed, immense," as Bacon notes (Bacon, The Great Renewal, "Plan of the Work").

One of the differences is that the old logic comes too late to really offer any help, "when all is clearly lost," the minds of men and women already corrupted with false beliefs and the "vainest idols" (NO, Preface). (Idol is an important term I'll discuss more in-depth in a later essay. For now, consider it as a poorly formed concept that hinders present and future thinking.) Worse, the application of the old logic is not only useless for discovering the truth: it commits us to our past mistaken thinking as mentioned previously (NO, Preface, 1.12). The reason for this is something very important, and I'll address it shortly. Bacon thinks the exact opposite is true of his new logic: it will empower people so that they may discern the truth. The only alternative Bacon thinks we have left is to start all over with our learning, and this time guide our thinking from the very beginning instead of leaving it to its own devices—basically run the mind as if it were a machine (NO, Preface).

A major reason for Bacon's disapproval of Scholastic-Aristotelian logic is that he found the concepts used in the Aristotelian philosophy to be poorly formed:
There is no soundness in our notions, whether logical or physical. Substance, Quality, Action, Passion, Essence [that is, "being"] itself, are not sound notions; much less are Heavy, Light, Dense, Rare, Moist, Dry, Generation, Corruption, Attraction, Repulsion, Element, Matter, Form, and the like; [...] all are fantastical and ill defined. (NO, 1.15)
Bacon believes that the Scholastic science and philosophy have failed to help people truly understand nature. In effect, Bacon rejects the entire Aristotelian-Scholastic view of science and metaphysics; as Dr. McCaskey remarks, "[the terms listed in NO 1.15 above] are, of course, the stock components of Aristotelian natural philosophy in the late Renaissance. That whole science collapses if these notions are mere idols" (Regula Socratis, p. 259).

Of all the differences between his new logic and that of his contemporaries, Bacon claims (in his "Plan of the Work" of the The Great Renewal) that three stand out especially: (1) the end-goal sought, (2) the "order of demonstration," and (3) the starting point of the inquiry (The Great Renewal, Plan of the Work).

The End of Science
For the end which this science of mine proposes is the invention not of arguments but of arts [here meaning "human works, practical inventions"]; not of things in accordance with principles, but of principles themselves; not of probable reasons, but of designations and directions for works. And as the intention is different, so, accordingly, is the effect; the effect of the one being to overcome an opponent in argument, of the other to command nature in action. (ibid.)
Bacon proposes a new goal for science, and as we'll see later in one of my essays, for knowledge in general: the invention of practical works, of things to better our condition in the world. The telos or goal of the Scholastic logic was to construct arguments, to make things agree with their principles and premises in a deduction. Bacon seeks the very principles that the Scholastics rely on; he wants our minds and practical works to agree with the principles, to put it another way. The old logic, in Bacon's view, could only produce probable reasons; his new one will create certain and effective instructions for human action. And since the respective goals of these two logics are different, so too will their effects; the old logic will enable one to best others in debates and disputations, while Bacon's logic will grant us power to best and manipulate nature.

The Inverted Order of Demonstration

In the next paragraph, Bacon notes that the nature and order of the demonstrations conform to the new end he's proposed. The goal of Scholastic education is to train students so that they excel in deductive reasoning—to this end, they focus nearly all of their students' attention upon the syllogism. The Scholastic logicians, "...seem scarcely to have thought about induction. They pass it by with barely a mention, and hurry on to their formulae for disputation" (ibid.). As I mentioned earlier, logic textbooks from that time reserved only a few pages for discussing induction. Bacon's focus is reversed: he'll focus on induction, indeed, a new kind of induction: "[b]ut the greatest change I introduce is in the form itself of induction and the judgment made thereby" (ibid., italics mine).

(Quite an aside, but my Introduction to Logic class focused primarily on constructing deductive arguments; only three class days were spent on induction. Fundamentally, things haven't changed, centuries after Bacon's warnings.)

In Bacon's view, there are two forms of demonstration: syllogism and induction. Despite the attitude of his contemporaries, Bacon proclaims that he rejects demonstration by syllogism; he disagrees with the view that one can gain certain knowledge through just deductive reasoning. Instead, he insists that the demonstration by syllogism "operates in confusion," and lets, "nature slip out of its hands" (ibid.). Two of his logician contemporaries, Jacopo Zabarella and Everard Digby, both describe the attainment of true knowledge as a syllogism initially understood confusedly, and, after a sort of intellectual revelation or contemplation, the original syllogism can be revisited or changed in a way that grants scientific, demonstrative knowledge. Both start with syllogisms that reason from known particular effects to their vaguely understood causes, proceed through a stage of intellectual intuition in which the cause is identified, and end with a syllogism that reasons from understood causes to their effects. Both are entirely contemplative or mental processes, totally divorced from natural events. Bacon rejects this entire approach to gaining knowledge, and regards both stages of the above mentioned syllogisms as confused and vaguely understood, not merely the first stage.

This rejection of the syllogism extends not only to minor propositions, but to major premises as well. In common logic, induction is used to gain the major, deduction to bring about the minor. In the case of Zabarella, this took on a special form (a "regressus"):

Knowledge of the Fact:

MAJOR: What can die is alive.
MINOR: Men can die.
Therefore, men are alive.

Knowledge of the Reasoned Fact:

MAJOR: What is alive can die.
MINOR: Men are alive.
Therefore, men can die.

In a regressus, both syllogisms are composed of a major premise, a minor proposition, and a conclusion. The majors are obtained by induction, as Bacon notes, saying that Scholastic logicians do not use deduction for those, but instead use deduction for the minor propositions and conclusions. The "middle term" is what connects the predicate of the major with the subject of the minor, combining that subject-predicate in the argument's conclusion. (In the second syllogism, the "knowledge of the reasoned fact," it is because what is alive can die and that men are alive that men can die.) The minor of one syllogism is the conclusion of the other, and vice versa. Bacon too admits that the minor can be obtained through a separate syllogism's conclusion, but that this method is completely intellectual, and thus disconnected from nature and practice.

Part of the reason why Bacon believes syllogistic thinking is thoroughly confused is that deduction does not offer a means to know which parts of an argument are the cause, and which are the effect. Since the conclusions of the above arguments' minors are interchangeable, there's no way to tell (for example) if men are alive because they can die, or if they can die because they're alive. Judging by the arguments alone, and in lieu of the mystical insight Zabarella purportedly had, there's no way to know which syllogism is better at articulating the appropriate cause and effect relationship, if either even can. Ignorance of the cause frustrates our ability to truly know about, or produce, the effect (NO, 1.3); the arguments are not demonstrations for Bacon, because they can't generate certain knowledge.

Bacon goes on to describe the main reason why the syllogism is so unclear and unconnected to the world. It's indubitable, he thinks, that propositions which agree with a syllogism's middle term agree with each other (the argument is valid, or the conclusion follows from its premises): this is as certain as the truths of mathematics. But there is a hidden deception or fraud in all of this, because:
...the syllogism consists of propositions—propositions [consists] of words; and words are the tokens [representations, symbols] and signs of notions. Now if the very notions of the mind (which are as the soul of words and the basis of the whole structure) be improperly and overhastily abstracted from facts, vague, not sufficiently definite, faulty—in short, in many ways, the whole edifice tumbles. (ibid.)
This criticism is not fundamental to syllogisms per se, but more to human thought in general. In our experiences, we come to form ideas and notions about things. But we carry this out as if we are new employees at a job that we have no expertise in: we've formed no methods of thinking or acting, we bungle things up, we misunderstand, and possess faulty reasoning as a result. The syllogism can't be the foundation of reasoning in natural philosophy (science) because the terms/notions it's composed of can be poorly abstracted, and can be otherwise ineffective. The foundation of reasoning, in natural philosophy and elsewhere, therefore, should be the legitimate formation of our notions.

Because of these deficiencies, Bacon will leave deduction for the less rigorous fields of study, including the fields of rhetoric and university teaching, but intends on using induction for the study of natural philosophy. For syllogisms in natural philosophy, Bacon says he will use induction "throughout," for both major and minor propositions. This is because, "I consider induction to be that form of demonstration which upholds the sense, and closes with nature, and comes to the very brink of operation, if it does not actually deal with it" (ibid.).

All of these points provide the justification for Bacon inverting the order and role of the two kinds of demonstration. In the common system of logic, induction has hardly a role at all; it is quickly introduced, allowing the logician to ascend from the senses and particulars to the most general propositions, and then to use these as fixed points from which to deduce whatever they wanted. This method is an ineffective short-cut, which passes by nature, and provides an accessible route for disputes and arguments to commence. By contrast, Bacon proposes to ascend "regularly and gradually" from one lower-level principle (an "axiom" in his terminology) to another, higher-level one, so that the highest axioms are not obtained until the very end; in this way, we reach notions which are not vague but well-defined, and represent the true nature of things. To explain this point, Bacon again utilizes Aristotelian-Scholastic vocabulary, this time using the phrase "such as nature would really recognize as her first principles," or the knowledge that is the furthest away from sense perception, "better known to nature," of universals---the essence of something in relation to the universe at large (what that thing is, generally and truly); this is contrasted with "better known to us," something known that is closest to sense-perception, knowledge of particulars (Regula Socratis, p. 88-89)

In the place of honor, Bacon nominates induction instead of the syllogism. But it must be understood that Bacon rejects the syllogism and the induction of his contemporaries. He claims that the logician's version of induction, which is an argument by simple enumeration, is childish, "puerile" ("Plan of the Work"). Take another supposedly inductive argument: "This X rabbit hops. That Y rabbit hops (and so on with the other cases). Therefore, all rabbits hop." This argument "concludes precariously" because it is "liable to be upset by a contradictory instance"; find one rabbit which never hops, or one married bishop for the earlier example of an induction, and the arguments fall apart. It takes into account only what is familiar, taking something close to the senses, like people, and immediately generalizes some feature as pertaining to all of them. It "leads to no result," because it can't be applied to unobserved cases without the risk of being overthrown by contrary instances (ibid.). In its place, he'll provide a kind of induction that more cautiously generalizes, which will employ exclusions and rejections, and which will be designed so as to better handle counter-examples; he calls this induction "true," "legitimate," "perfect," and the "interpretation of nature" ("true": NO, 1.14, 1.40; "legitimate": 2.10; "perfect": 2.21; "interpretation of nature": 1.26, 1.69).

Starting Points of Inquiry

The last significant difference is the respective beginnings of the two logics, old and new. The old (1) assumes the principles of sciences; as syllogisms are ineffective for determining which parts of an argument are causes, and which effects, it makes sense that they would borrow such notions from other fields of study. ("Demonstrations truly are in effect the philosophies themselves and the sciences. For such as they are, well or ill established, such are the systems of philosophy and the contemplations which follow" (NO, 1.69).) The old logic also (2) takes the notions of the mind just as they are: unfiltered and unexamined; lastly, it (3) unquestionably accepts the information of the senses.

In response to (1), the new logic will engage the principles of the sciences with an authority higher than those sciences themselves, and on this authority judge those principles until they are considered valid and established (ibid.). For (2), none of the notions of the mind will be accepted when the mind is left to form them on its own, until they are established through an examination by the new logic of induction. And (3) the information of the senses will themselves be sifted through and examined in many respects, "[f]or certain it is that the senses deceive; but then at the same time they supply the means of discovering their own errors; only the errors are here, the means of discovery are to seek" (ibid.).

The starting points for Bacon's induction, then, are the evidence of the ordinary senses, and the unassisted human mind: both beset with their own errors, the intellect more so than the senses. The mind often creates its own problems, mixing its own nature with that of the thing being investigated, and fails to accurately contain information about the world around it. By several different routes, this distorted way of thinking leads to the "idols" of the mind, poorly formed notions which atrophy our reasoning. For the senses, Bacon will (and advocates that others) concoct instruments and experiments to assist the senses in reaching the underlying reality of things. For the intellect, and the solution to the problem of idols, Bacon will "lay it down once [and] for all as a fixed and established maxim that the intellect is not qualified to judge except by means of induction, and induction in its legitimate form" (ibid.). Bacon calls this the doctrine "of the expurgation of the intellect to qualify it for dealing with truth," and states that it is comprised of three "redargutions," another term from Scholastic scholarship, which is their latin translation of Aristotle's "elenchi," roughly translated as refutations. This doctrine consists of the examination and refutation of three things: the philosophies, the demonstrations (induction and the syllogism), and of the human reason. It is these three redargutions which form the subject matter of book 1 of the Novum Organum.


So ends what I think are the prerequisites for understanding Bacon's induction as presented in the Novum Organum. In the coming essays, I'll discuss the idols that Bacon believes beset our minds, the defects of the senses, his view of the various philosophies, and his outlook on the future. I'll discuss his account of notions, his view on experiments, on knowledge, on power, on causation, and on what he hopes to achieve. Soon, we'll see how:
The explanation of [the three redargutions: Novum Organum, book 1], and of the true relation between the nature of things and the nature of the mind [book 2], is as the strewing and decoration of the bridal chamber of the mind and the universe, the divine goodness assisting, out of which marriage let us hope (and be this the prayer of the bridal song) there may spring helps to man, and a line and race of inventions that may in some degree subdue and overcome the necessities and miseries of humanity. ("Plan of the Work")

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