Superphysics Superphysics
Part 7b

The Forms of Metaphysics

by Francis Bacon Icon
8 minutes  • 1566 words
Table of contents

I assigned metaphysic to handle the inquiries of formal and final causes.

The Inquiries of Formal Causes

The inquiries of the formal causes might seem nugatory and void. This is because of the received and inveterate opinion that man is not competent to find out essential forms or true differences.

I reply that:

  • the invention of forms is of all other parts of knowledge the worthiest to be sought, if it be possible to be found.
  • those who say that those forms are impossible to discover are like explorers on a ship who think that there is no land when they see nothing but ocean

Plato, in his opinion of ideas, had the highest wit to assert that forms were the true object of knowledge.

  • But he lost the real fruit of his opinion when he said that forms are absolutely abstracted from matter, and not confined and determined by matter.
  • This turned his opinion into theology which infects all his natural philosophy.

But anyone can realize what forms are important to the state of man if he keeps a continual serious watch on the action, operation, and the use of knowledge.

The forms of substances are so perplexed. They should not be inquired into.

no more than it were either possible or to purpose to seek in gross the forms of those sounds which make words, which by composition and transposition of letters are infinite.

But, on the other side, to inquire the form of those sounds or voices which make simple letters is easily comprehensible; and being known induceth and manifesteth the forms of all words, which consist and are compounded of them.

In the same way, to inquire the form of a lion, of an oak, of gold, of water, of air, is a vain pursuit.

But to inquire the forms of sense, of voluntary motion, of vegetation, of colours, of gravity and levity, of density, of tenuity, of heat, of cold, and all other natures and qualities, which, like an alphabet, are not many, and of which the essences (upheld by matter) of all creatures do consist; to inquire, I say, the true forms of these, is that part of metaphysic which we now define of.

Not but that physic doth make inquiry and take consideration of the same natures; but how? Only as to the material and efficient causes of them, and not as to the forms. For example, if the cause of whiteness in snow or froth be inquired, and it be rendered thus, that the subtle intermixture of air and water is the cause, it is well rendered; but, nevertheless, is this the form of whiteness? No; but it is the efficient, which is ever but vehiculum formæ.

This part of metaphysic I do not find laboured and performed; whereat I marvel not; because I hold it not possible to be invented by that course of invention which hath been used; in regard that men (which is the root of all error) have made too untimely a departure, and too remote a recess from particulars.

(6) But the use of this part of metaphysic, which I report as deficient, is of the rest the most excellent in two respects: the one, because it is the duty and virtue of all knowledge to abridge the infinity of individual experience, as much as the conception of truth will permit, and to remedy the complaint of vita brevis, ars longa; which is performed by uniting the notions and conceptions of sciences. For knowledges are as pyramids, whereof history is the basis. So of natural philosophy, the basis is natural history; the stage next the basis is physic; the stage next the vertical point is metaphysic. As for the vertical point, opus quod operatur Deus à principio usque ad finem, the summary law of nature, we know not whether man’s inquiry can attain unto it. But these three be the true stages of knowledge, and are to them that are depraved no better than the giants’ hills:—

“Ter sunt conati imponere Pelio Ossam, Scilicet atque Ossæ frondsum involvere Olympum.”

But to those which refer all things to the glory of God, they are as the three acclamations, Sante, sancte, sancte! holy in the description or dilatation of His works; holy in the connection or concatenation of them; and holy in the union of them in a perpetual and uniform law. And, therefore, the speculation was excellent in Parmenides and Plato, although but a speculation in them, that all things by scale did ascend to unity. So then always that knowledge is worthiest which is charged with least multiplicity, which appeareth to be metaphysic; as that which considereth the simple forms or differences of things, which are few in number, and the degrees and co-ordinations whereof make all this variety. The second respect, which valueth and commendeth this part of metaphysic, is that it doth enfranchise the power of man unto the greatest liberty and possibility of works and effects. For physic carrieth men in narrow and restrained ways, subject to many accidents and impediments, imitating the ordinary flexuous courses of nature. But latæ undique sunt sapientibus viæ; to sapience (which was anciently defined to be rerum divinarum et humanarum scientia) there is ever a choice of means. For physical causes give light to new invention in simili materia. But whosoever knoweth any form, knoweth the utmost possibility of superinducing that nature upon any variety of matter; and so is less restrained in operation, either to the basis of the matter, or the condition of the efficient; which kind of knowledge Solomon likewise, though in a more divine sense, elegantly describeth: non arctabuntur gressus tui, et currens non habebis offendiculum. The ways of sapience are not much liable either to particularity or chance.

The Inquiries of Final Causes

The second part of metaphysic is the inquiry of final causes. Up to now, this part has been misplaced.

This misplacing has caused a deficience, or at least a great improficience, in the sciences themselves.

This is because physical inquiries got mixed into the handling of final causes. This then intercepted the serious and diligent inquiry of all real and physical causes, leading men to stay on these satisfactory and specious causes, to the great arrest and prejudice of further discovery.

This was done not by Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and others which do usually likewise fall upon these flats of discoursing causes.

They say that:

  • “the hairs of the eyelids are for a quickset and fence about the sight”
  • “the firmness of the skins and hides of living creatures is to defend them from heat or cold”
  • “the bones are the columns or beams where the frames of the bodies of living creatures are built”
  • “the leaves of trees are for protecting of the fruit”
  • “the clouds are for watering of the earth”
  • “the solidness of the earth is for the station and mansion of living creatures”

These are so common in metaphysic.

  • But in physic they are impertinent.
  • These are but remoras and hindrances to stay and slug the ship from further sailing
  • These have brought this to pass, that the search of the physical causes hath been neglected and passed in silence.

Therefore, the natural philosophy of Democritus and some others did not suppose a mind in the frame of things. Instead, they attributed the form thereof able to maintain itself to infinite essays or proofs of Nature, which they term fortune, seems to me in particularities of physical causes more real and better inquired than that of Aristotle and Plato.

Whereof both intermingled final causes, the one as a part of theology, and the other as a part of logic, which were the favourite studies respectively of both those persons. This is not because those final causes are not true and worthy to be inquired, being kept within their own province, but because their excursions into the limits of physical causes hath bred a vastness and solitude in that tract.

For otherwise, keeping their precincts and borders, men are extremely deceived if they think there is an enmity or repugnancy at all between them.

For the cause rendered, that “the hairs about the eyelids are for the safeguard of the sight,” does not impugn the cause rendered, that “pilosity is incident to orifices of moisture—muscosi fontes, &c.” Nor the cause rendered, that “the firmness of hides is for the armour of the body against extremities of heat or cold,” doth not impugn the cause rendered, that “contraction of pores is incident to the outwardest parts, in regard of their adjacence to foreign or unlike bodies;” and so of the rest, both causes being true and compatible, the one declaring an intention, the other a consequence only.

Neither doth this call in question or derogate from Divine Providence, but highly confirm and exalt it.

For as in civil actions he is the greater and deeper politique that can make other men the instruments of his will and ends, and yet never acquaint them with his purpose, so as they shall do it and yet not know what they do, than he that imparteth his meaning to those he employeth; so is the wisdom of God more admirable, when Nature intendeth one thing and Providence draweth forth another, than if He had communicated to particular creatures and motions the characters and impressions of His Providence.

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