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Bacons Idols

Sir Francis Bacon developed one of the most sophisticated philosophical methods in history. His methods were supposed to replace the old ones in the tradition of Aristotle.

Bacon supposed that it was possible to generalize a finding based on induction. He also proposed to list false images of the mind (idols). Bacon considered these things as such that obstructed the way of correct logical reasoning. Therefore, he lists the following prejudices:

1. Idols of the Tribe. These idols include a widespread tendency to perceive more regularity and order in systems than exists in the reality. It may happen owing to the fact that individuals sometimes follow their prejudiced ideas about nature.

2. Idols of the Cave. These idols include humans individual weaknesses in reasoning owing to particular circumstances, preferences and dislikes.

3. Idols of the Market-place. These idols include confusions over the use of scientific terms and taking specific words from philosophy and other sciences to have a different meaning compared with their common usage.

4. Idols of Theatre. These idols include abiding by academic principles without asking questions about the real nature.

It is necessary to pay additional attention to Idols of the Market-place because the misunderstanding of scientific words currently represents an important problem. These idols may be observed when one uses names of imaginary things.

On the one hand, there are some things that are unnamed through the lack of observation, and therefore some names exist which come from unrealistic assumptions and do not have corresponding natural items. Such fictions include the element of Fire, the Prime Mover, Planetary Orbits, and Fortune. Their origin comes from idle or false theories.

On the other hand, there are names of things which exist but are yet ill-defined and confused as well as irregularly and hastily derived from natural reality. Such class of idols comes from an unskillful and faulty abstraction. For instance, such word as humid may have different meanings, and this word is not necessarily used to signify an agreement with different parties. The word humid represents a mark that one confusedly and loosely applies to the denotation of a number of actions which cannot be reduced to any constant meaning.

Idols of the Market-place may be considered as the most troublesome because they confuse the understanding of things through the similarity between names and words.

People commonly believe that their reason governs words, but it is often the case that words influence the understanding. Thus, this factor has rendered metaphysics and sciences inactive and sophistical. Different words follow such lines of division that are the most obvious to the common understanding. However, in cases when a more diligent observation or understanding of greater acuteness could alter typical lines to show true divisions of nature, words may oppose the change.

Formal and heated discussions between scientists usually result in disputes about names and words with which (according to the wisdom of some mathematicians) it would be more reasonable to begin, and by means of such definitions it is possible to put things in order.

However, even the best definitions cannot correct these shortcomings in dealing with material and natural things because definitions consist of a number of words which generate other words. That is why it is necessary to refer to specific cases.

In certain words there are specific degrees of error and distortion. One of the most adequate kinds are the names of substances, for example, of well-deduced and lowest species (in such a case, the notion of earth is bad, whereas of mud and chalk are good,). A more incorrect kind is that of actions such as to alter, to generate, to corrupt; however, the most incorrect is the one denoting qualities (except such that refer to clear objects of senses) as dense, rare, heavy, and light, and others. In fact, in all these cases some terms are objectively better than others in relation to the greater number of subjects that may fall within the range of individual senses.

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Bacon stressed that Idols of the Market-place received their name owing to an account of the consort and commerce of men. The reason is that men associate, and words are used in accordance with the common apprehension. That is why the unsuitable and ill choice of names significantly obstructs the real understanding. The explanations and definitions are also not able to guard and defend people from misunderstanding. It happens because words overrule and force the understanding as well as add some confusion that leads men away into a large number of idle fancies and bitter controversies.

All words are given specific values in an individuals mind based on his/her experience in life and with those concepts and names. Owing to the imperfect understanding that people possess, when they hear words, they are usually perceived based on the persons understanding and everyone understands and may receive these words differently.

The misinterpretation of the meaning of words written or spoken typically leads to confusion or false understanding which may result in arguments that misrepresent reality and common definitions of things. The Idol of the Market-place is relevant today, and it is a serious problem for the development of scientific reasoning.

It should be stressed that Idols of the Market-place are the result of individuals association with other people, mainly through language. Language may be ambiguous and sometimes confuses the real understanding of nature.

Therefore, Bacon proposes to change Aristotles theory of the syllogism. In fact, induction usually begins with considering things as they are presented in the real world which continues with a long series of logical steps trying to find adequate general axioms regarding the essence of things. Bacon shows a number of steps in this direction, including the use of privileged instances, the collection of information about the nature of things one is studying, and the formulation of initial impressions. Such method may lead to the real understanding of the world.

Bacon presents his views as an instrument for rational thinking since his works describe a well-defined process that any scientist may follow; hereupon, the researcher is not required to deviate significantly form the given rules. It is almost a machine for understanding the essence of things in the natural world.

As an example of Idols of the Market-place, it is reasonable to present views of two famous philosophers Immanuel Kant and Ludwig von Mises on the place of Mathematics and its role in learning. Kant is famous for his position that Mathematics presents the most brilliant example of the way a pure reason may successfully enlarge its domain without the aid of experience. At the same time, Mises criticized mathematical methods in social sciences, economics in particular. Mises considered that the mathematical method is entirely vicious, leading to fallacious inferences and starting from false assumptions.

It seems that these philosophers express opposite views. However, after a deep reading it becomes clear that both of them express the same idea, namely that all sciences should be based on a priori reasoning. Hereby, a mathematical formula 2+4=6 is correct, but using statistical and mathematical methods in relation to human action is not always correct.

Thus, it is necessary to be careful with Idols of the Market-place and try to avoid them in scientific reasoning.

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