From a commonsense point of view, to assert that that which moves a stone, piece of iron, or a stick, is what heats it, seems like an extreme vanity. But the friction produced when two hard bodies are rubbed together, which either reduces them to fine flying particles or permits the corpuscles of flame contained in them to escape, can finally be analyzed as motion. And the particles, when they encounter our body and penetrate and tear through it, are felt, in their motion and contact, by the living creature, who thus feels those pleasant or unpleasant affections which we call “heat,” “burning,” or “scorching.” Perhaps while this pulverizing and attrition continue, and remain confined to the particles themselves, their motion will be temporary and their operation will be merely that of heating. But once we arrive at the point of ultimate and maximum dissolution into truly indivisible atoms, light itself may be created, with an instantaneous motion or (I should rather say) an instantaneous diffusion and expansion, capable—I do not know if by the atoms’ subtlety, rarity, immateriality, or by different and as yet unspecifiable conditions—capable, I say, of filling vast spaces.
And these fancies affect not only dogmas, but also simple notions. 46. The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all other things to support and agree with it. And though there is a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet it either neglects and despises these, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate. And therefore it was a good answer that was made by one who, when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods; “Yes,” he asked again, “but where are the pictures of those who were drowned after their vows?” And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like, in which men, having a delight in such vanities, notice the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much more often, neglect and pass them by. But this mischief insinuates itself with much more subtlety into philosophy and the sciences, in which the first conclusion colors and brings into conformity with itself all that come after, though far sounder and better. Besides, independently of that delight and vanity which I have described, it is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives, whereas it ought properly to hold itself indifferently disposed towards both alike. Indeed, in the establishment of any true axiom, the negative instance is the more forcible of the two.
43. There are also idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call idols of the market place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there. For it is by discourse that men associate; and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar. And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations, with what in some things learned men are accustomed to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies. 44. Lastly, there are idols which have immigrated into men’s minds from the various dogmas of philosophies, and also from wrong laws of demonstration. These I call idols of the theater, because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion. Nor is it only of the systems now in vogue or only of the ancient sects and philosophies that I speak; for many more plays of the same kind may yet be composed and in like artificial manner set forth, seeing that the most widely different errors have causes which are for the most part alike. Neither again do I mean this only of entire systems, but also of many principles and axioms in science which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received. But of these several kinds of idols I must speak more largely and exactly, that the understanding may be duly cautioned. 45. The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there may be things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugate relatives which do not exist.
41. The idols of the tribe have their foundation in human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men. For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions both of the sense and of the mind are according to the measure of the individual, and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it. 42. The idols of the cave are the idols of the individual man. For every one (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like. So that the spirit of man (according as it is meted out to different individuals) is in fact a thing variable and full of perturbation, and governed as it were by chance.
28. For the winning of assent, indeed, anticipations are far more powerful than interpretations, because being collected from a few instances, and those for the most part of familiar occurrence, they straightway touch the understanding and fill the imagination; whereas interpretations, on the other hand, being gathered here and there from very various and widely dispersed facts, cannot suddenly strike the understanding; and therefore they must necessarily, in respect of the opinions of the time, seem harsh and out of tune, much as the mysteries of faith do. 29. In sciences founded on opinions and dogmas, the use of anticipations and logic is good; for in them the object is to command assent to the propositions, not to master the thing.
In order to penetrate into the inner and further recesses of nature, it is necessary that both notions and axioms be derived from things by a more sure and guarded way, and that a method of intellectual operation be introduced altogether better and more certain. 19. There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth. The one files from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of which it takes for settled and immovable, proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried. 20. The understanding left to itself takes the same course (namely the former) which it takes in accordance with logical order. For the mind longs to spring up to positions of higher generality, that it may find rest there, and so after a little while wearies of experiment. But this evil is increased by logic, because of the order and solemnity of its disputations. 21. The understanding left to itself, in a sober, patient, and grave mind, especially if it is not hindered by received doctrines, tries a little that other way, which is the right one, but with little progress; for the understanding, unless directed and assisted, is a thing unequal, and quite unfit to contend with the obscurity of things. 22. Both ways set out from the senses and particulars, and rest in the lightest generalities, but the difference between them is infinite. For the one just glances at experiment and particulars in passing, the other dwells duly and orderly among them. The one, again, begins at once by establishing certain abstract and useless generalities, the other rises by gradual steps to that which is prior and better known in the order of nature.
3. Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known, the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which is in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule. [ … ] 11. As the sciences we now have do not help us in finding out new works, so neither does the logic we now have help us in finding out new sciences. 12. The logic now in use serves rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions than to help the search for truth. So it does more harm than good. 13. The syllogism is not applied to the first principles of science, and is applied in vain to intermediate axioms, being no match for the subtlety of nature. It commands assent therefore to the proposition, but does not take hold of the thing. 14. The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions. Therefore, if the notions themselves (which is the root of the matter) are confused and too hastily abstracted from the facts, there can be no firmness in the superstructure. Our only hope therefore lies in a true induction. 15. There is no soundness in our notions, whether logical or physical. Substance, quality, passion, essence itself are not sound notions; much less are heavy, light, dense, rare, moist, dry, generation, corruption, attraction, repulsion, element, matter, form, and the like. But all are fantastical and ill defined. 16. Our notions of less general species, as man, dog, dove, and of the intermediate perceptions of the sense, as hot, cold, black, white, do not materially mislead us; yet even these are sometimes confused by the flux and alteration of matter and the mixing of one thing with another. All the others which men have adopted up to now are but wanderings, not being abstracted and formed from things by proper methods. 17. Nor is there less willfulness and wandering in the construction of axioms than in the formation of notions, not excepting even those very principles which are obtained by common induction, but much more in the axioms and lower propositions educed by the syllogism.
For it is not likely that we would take on different passions without changing; and what suffers change does not remain one and the same, and if it is not one and the same, then it also is not. But, as to being a complete being, that also changes being simply, constantly becoming another from another. And consequently the senses deceive us and lie to us by nature, taking what appears for what is, for lack of knowing what it is that is. But what is it, then, that truly is? What is eternal, that is, what has never been born, will never have an end; time never brings it any change. For time is a mobile thing, which appears as in shadow, with matter always running and flowing, without ever remaining stable or permanent. Anything to which the words before and after, has been and will be, is applied shows on the face of it that it is not a thing that is. For it would be great stupidity and a very obvious falsehood to say that that thing is which is not yet in being or has already ceased to be. As to the words present, instant, now, by which it seems we chiefly support and found our awareness of time, when reason discovers it, it destroys everything on the spot, for it immediately splits and divides it into future and past, as if it wanted necessarily to see it cut in two. The same thing happens to the nature that is being measured as to the time that measures it. For there is nothing there either that remains, or that is subsistent, but all things there are are born, or being born, or dying. Thus it would be a sin to say of God, who alone is, that he was or will be. For these are terms of variation, passage, or vicissitude concerning things that cannot last or remain in being. Hence we must conclude that only God is, not in the least according to some measure of time, but according to an immutable and immobile eternity, not measured by time, nor subject to any variation, before which nothing is, nor will be afterward, nor newer or more recent, but one really real being, who with one single now fills always; and there is nothing that is truly real but him alone, without one’s being able to say: He has been, or he will be without beginning and without end.
Finally, there is no constant existence, neither of our being nor of that of objects. Both we and our judgment and all things mortal go on flowing and rolling endlessly. Thus nothing can be established for certain of the one or the other, both the judging and the judged being in a constant state of change and motion. We have no communication with being, since all human nature is always in the middle between being born and dying, giving only an obscure appearance and shadow of itself, and an uncertain and weak opinion of itself.25 And if by chance you fix your thought on wanting to grasp your being, that is no more nor less than if you wanted to take hold of water, for the more you squeeze and press what is by nature flowing everywhere, the more you lose what you wanted to seize and take hold of. Thus, since all things are subject to passing from one change to another, reason, seeking a real subsistence there, finds itself disappointed, not being able to apprehend anything subsistent and permanent, since everything is either coming into being and is not yet at all, or beginning to die before it is born.
It would take someone exempt from all these qualities so that, without preoccupation in his judgment, he would judge of these propositions as indifferent to him; and for this reason we would need a judge who never was. To judge appearances that we receive from subjects, we would need a judicatory instrument; to verify that instrument, we would need demonstration; to verify the demonstration, an instrument; here we are going round a circle. Since the senses cannot stop our dispute, being themselves full of uncertainty, it must be up to reason; no reason can be established without another reason: here we are regressing to infinity. Our imagination does not apply itself to foreign objects, but is formed through the mediation of the senses; and the senses do not understand a foreign object, but only their own passions; and thus what we imagine and what appears to us are not from the object, but only
Is it, I say, our senses that fashion these subjects into so many different qualities, or do they have them in themselves? And given this doubt, what can we determine of their true essence? Further, when the accidents of illness, of day-dreaming, or of sleep make things appear to us differently from the way they appear to the healthy, the wise, and those who are awake, is it not likely that our normal condition and our natural humors also have something to give a being to things relating to their condition, and to accommodate them to themselves, as our disordered humors do? And is not our health just as capable of giving them their appearance as illness is?
It is likely that the eyes of animals, which we see are of a different color, produce for them appearances of bodies corresponding to their eyes. To judge the action of the senses we would first have to be in agreement with the animals, and secondly among ourselves. That is what we decidedly are not; and we enter into debate all the time about the fact that we hear, see, or taste something differently from someone else, and we debate about the diversity of images the senses bring us as much as we do about anything. By the ordinary rule of nature, a child hears and sees differently from a man of thirty years, and he in turn hears and sees differently from a man in his sixties. For some the senses are more obscure and darker, for others more open and sharper. We receive things differently,
Since our reason and our soul receive the fancies and opinions that arise in them while we are sleeping, and authorize the actions of our dreams with the same approval they give to those of the day, why do we not wonder whether our thought, our action, is not another state of dreaming and our waking some kind of sleep?>> If the senses are our first judges, it is not only our own senses that must be called to counsel, for in regard to this faculty animals have as much of a claim as we do, or even more. It is certain that some have more acute hearing than man, others sight, others feeling, others touch and taste.