Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Prayers Written by Philosophers IV

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had an active political career under Elizabeth I and James; the former seems not to have liked him, leading to struggles both political and financial, but under the latter he rose to be Lord Chancellor. He spent the last five years of his life trying to complete a philosophical project of extraordinarily sweeping ambition: the Instauratio Magna Scientiarum, the Great Restoration of Sciences, reconceiving the entire field of human knowledge on inductive and experimental terms. It was too ambitious; despite swift work it was left unfinished. His work would be highly lauded in Britain, and, in its more empiricist days, France, over the next several centuries, and although in many ways this was more a matter of people picking and choosing parts of Bacon they liked, and on the part of the British national pride, it meant that for a significant portion of the scientific world for most of the early modern period, Bacon was regarded as the philosopher who had laid out the scientific method. While 'Baconian' would be used to cover some rather different views, it was only in the nineteenth century, when the new philosophies of science rose in the works of John Herschel, John Stuart Mill, and especially William Whewell, that things changed. Until that point he was, for British philosophers, at least, the name that summed up the modern age.

The following prayer is occasionally listed as 'The Writer's Prayer' and was included in the Preface to the Instauratio. William Whewell seems to have been much taken with it, and highlights it and another of Bacon's prayers in his discussion of Bacon in the Philosophy of Discovery portion of his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.

Thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first—born of thy creatures, and didst pour into man the intellectual light as the top and consummation of thy workmanship, be pleased to protect and govern this work, which coming from thy goodness, returneth to thy glory. Thou, after thou hadst reviewed the works which thy hands had made, beheldest that everything was very good, and thou didst rest with complacency in them. But man, reflecting on the works which he had made, saw that all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and could by no means acquiesce in them. Wherefore, if we labour in thy works with the sweat of our brows, thou wilt make us partakers of thy vision and thy Sabbath. We humbly beg that this mind may be steadfastly in us; and that thou, by our hands, and also by the hands of others on whom thou shalt bestow the same spirit, wilt please to convey a largess of new alms to thy family of mankind. These things we commend to thy everlasting love, by our Jesus, thy Christ, God with us. Amen.

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