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Francis Bacon’s inductive reasoning and his taste for bacon.

Hi, today’s article is on Francis Bacon, biases and hypotheses, and whether Francis Bacon liked bacon. For some quick context, Francis Bacon, living from 1561 – 1626 was a politician in the early modern sense where he was chosen for important governmental positions by the heads of state of England.

Did Francis Bacon like bacon?

I tried looking into it, and despite my best research attempts, I could not verify whether he liked bacon. Apparently, bacon, the food, was somewhat of a status symbol for peasants, their ability to field some bacon on their dining table was a show of meager wealth. You can construct an inductive argument for Francis Bacon’s enjoyment of bacon from this knowledge.

To elaborate, since we know that peasants liked to display the bacon they could afford, we can assume that it is a rather expensive piece of food. We also know that nobles liked to distinguish themselves from the poor by having things that poor people could not afford, despite the discomfort they might experience from those things.

Wikipedia says that high heels for example, which I guarantee to be uncomfortable since they are literally ruining your foot and back and possibly causing neck pain as well were popularized by French nobility after it was introduced by Persian emissaries in the early 17th century.[1] This was even regulated, and the different heights of the heels were controlled for by authorities, with taller heels being reserved for those of higher rank like princes.

From knowing that poor people liked to display their bacon as a show of wealth and that rich people put wealth status over discomfort, we can infer that Francis Bacon did likely eat bacon at least once because it probably would have been displayed on dinner tables prominently as an expensive cut of meat. However, this isn’t verified, so it is just a simple induction that might be right or wrong.

Inductive reasoning and hypotheses

Francis Bacon is considered to be the father of induction. To fully differentiate, a deductive argument would be for example, all cats are mammals, Aurelian has a cat, so Aurelian’s cat is a mammal. All premises in this argument are fully true, so the conclusion must follow.

In the inductive argument, it could still be the case that nobles had a prejudice against bacon despite my two premises, and it could make the conclusion false. A properly constructed inductive argument tries to be valid as much as it can, meaning that if the premises are true, then the conclusion might be true.

A deductive argument is sound in that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. In this situation, there is no way to add or continue the deduction, since the matter is settled definitively.

Science does operate on deduction at all. It depends on inductive arguments to construct hypotheses, and this is why Francis Bacon was so important to the development of modern science. Bertrand Russell says that Bacon “has permanent importance as the founder of the modern inductive method and the pioneer in the attempt at logical systemization of scientific procedure.”[2]

Induction is indispensable to the work of scientists; they need to be able to string together ideas in this way to be able to form hypotheses that they can test. While we may not know that Francis Bacon consumed bacon, now we can do specific research to see whether this is the case, and either affirm or deny the base assumption that he did not consume bacon. At any rate, we can always add more information to this to get closer to the truth of the matter, but it is hardly ever settled unless Francis Bacon himself said that he liked the food.

To bring more attention to this idea, for a theory to be properly tested, you must risk some stakes in a particular idea so that it can be disproven. You have to be able to say that your premises can be disproven. If you have a hypothesis that presupposes what you believe to be true and it must be disproven otherwise, it doesn’t form a proper foundation for knowledge. At any point in the future, if you take hypotheses to be true without being tested, your future ideas will hinge on these notions in the smallest or largest of ways, and your whole system of belief will collapse.

The big government or globalized government conspiracy theory or deep state, whatever name you choose, for example, holds that all of the governments of the world are controlled by a select group of people, and is often used as the basis for distrust in many institutions. The assumption is that money runs the world, and rich people therefore have a say in how governmental institutions make decisions. However, for this to be true, there has to be evidence of people outside of government directly deciding on policy and they are listened to only because of their money.

Lobbying is not an example of this, because as far as I know, nothing has ever been lobbied for that didn’t have some support from the population. The NRA, or National Rifle Association, is not in control of the government because they dump a lot of money for politicians to follow their orders, but rather there is just a large part of the US population that genuinely thinks guns should not be regulated because it is guaranteed by the second amendment. You could argue instead that because of the amount of money that the NRA dumps into advertising, that the population is misled into believing that it is good to keep guns around, but then you would have an issue with the ability of people to advertise at all in the first place, and not particular lobbying groups.

While it may be totally unfounded, it can be very comfortable to have a collective answer to all of the worries of the world. This is what religion used to do, and what science, to some extent, aims to do as well. Rationalize the world to make it more graspable, and more comfortable.

These rationalizations have to be formed through induction and not deduction, and the kind of reasoning that lays behind inductive reasoning gives way for more information to be introduced which would support some idea of a comfortable world. Presupposing a conclusion and forming subsequent arguments from that conclusion will fail as the things we know grow and eventually give way to free human thinking. For the most part, we cannot support a cognitive dissonance within ourselves, as was the case with many mythical creatures. As soon as we had the opportunity to video record pretty much anything through our phones, the chances of people believing in fake creatures plummeted because of the high demand for evidence, and when nothing appeared, it became harder and harder to believe in bigfoot for no reason other than someone else had reported it. We are more likely to say that they were just confused.

A lot of Christianity for example is founded on a notion that God, an incorporeal being, affects the world despite having no form or matter. If you presuppose this to be true, especially since it is impossible to test or discover an immaterial thing, it can be easy to funnel a mind into other similar faulty arguments. If they are willing to concede on a point of existence without physical matter, this kind of mind is inevitably going to end up in a fantastic conspiracy or another, in which something that cannot be proven is used as a foundation for a lot of other conjecture.

If we want to have a stable foundation, we must construct our world around inductive arguments, and those that are deductions can be our axioms, or base ideas, for thought. It is hard to say philosophically what is deductively true, since for example, Russell himself wrote with Alfred North Whitehead thousands of pages to prove that 1+1=2. This seems to us to be deductively true, since when you take one and add one, you have two, but for whatever wicked mathematical magic, it isn’t so simple. Nonetheless, try to think about what is a simple axiom that is definitively true, and what probably has more nuance or isn’t definitive when thinking about arguments.

To return to the book and Bacon, Russell says that “He is commonly regarded as the originator of saying ‘Knowledge is Power,’ and though he may have had predecessors who said the same thing, he said it with new emphasis.”[3]

While we can construct our understanding of the world around inductive arguments, we also must consider what the pitfalls are that allow for the appearance of new evidence. The problem of induction, a philosophical issue that hasn’t been resolved to this day, is what prevents induction from being always perfectly convincing. Russell gives an example of a census officer in Wales, who goes to the first house and finds the person to be named William Williams, then the next person is William Williams as well, and then the next. From these three data points we might begin to presume that pretty much the rest of the town is called William Williams as well, but it turns out there was just one person who was called John Jones. [4]

Inductive reasoning does not provide a conclusive answer, but rather an open-ended answer which can always allow for new evidence. The attitude one must take to be able to hold an inductive argument is also given in analogy by Bacon, and relayed by Russell, “We ought, he says, to be neither like spiders, which spin things out of their own insides, nor like ants, which merely collect, but like bees, which both collect and arrange.” [5]

This visual illustrates the proper stance as to beliefs in the world. Spiders spin a large web in order to catch all that comes through it, and to consume it and digest it. The web cannot realistically sustain larger bugs, and so the web gives way to those bugs for the smaller and more digestible bugs. Spiders spin a web from themselves to catch particularly sized bugs, and those comparable to spiders spin a presupposed idea from themselves to go confirm it with searches in the infinity of the web (the internet), which aims to draw your attention by giving you what you want.

We also acknowledge that being a statistician, or someone who is trained in doing polls has a specific job to be able to ask questions of people in such a way that it doesn’t load the question or trigger a bias in people to respond a certain way. But we rely on our google searches for complicated and large questions and are content with the answers given on Quora and not the larger morsels which will undoubtedly be more nutritious and informational, that is, proper research through academic articles.

On the flipside, we have ants, which will collect everything, but are not guided and are ultimately unable to generate self-sustaining sources of food, from which they can advance and create more advanced hunting techniques. This is what humans did and is why we ought to be and wish to be comparable to bees.

Bees collect honey from particular plants which are known to have whatever it is they need to make honey and bring it back to the nest in order to make beautifully symmetric hexes. From this source of honey, the nest can expand and collect more honey from other areas, but since they don’t have much going for them in terms of language or consciousness, they are stuck with creating more hexes.

Stable foundations for future thought

Human beings, being compared to bees, can collect and organize, and build upon this organization. Eventually, you can assume that the organization, in order to be organized in the first place, will have some continuous logic which will support more higher-order ideas. You can think of it as a tower of cards. The base has 10 columns, the following has 9 columns, and then 8, until you form a triangle tower of cards. If you’ve ever seen these collapse, it is sometimes the case that a part of the tower will collapse, but some of it still remains and can be reconstructed. If you take one pyramid of cards, with another adjacent pyramid you could theoretically build another smaller pyramid on top

On the other hand, if you imagine the same set of cards stacked upside down, all it would take to fall apart is for one card to collapse and the rest of it to follow.

If we continue with the image of the house of cards, we can also think of the person building the house as a brave person, committed to a craft which takes time and is quite tedious. For the idea of the house of cards to be built in the first place, you need an image of what it might look like and how it would be built. A hypothesis of its construction is necessary for any worthwhile progress to be made, but it takes a brave person to make several hypotheses and continue to do so despite most of them failing in order to reach the perfect construction. At some point, someone figured out that a triangle works really well to make a house of cards

Russell says that, “Bacon’s inductive method is faulty through insufficient emphasis on hypothesis. He hoped that mere orderly arrangement of data would make the right hypothesis obvious, but this is seldom the case.” A little further, “Usually some hypothesis is a necessary preliminary to the collection of facts, since the selection of facts demands some way of determining relevance. Without something of this kind, the mere multiplicity of facts is baffling.”[6]

This is especially the case in the face of the internet and search engines, as I said before, since these will confirm biases that you have by showing you results amongst billions that confirm what you are searching for, so that you can return and use the search engine again.

This brings up the relevant question of biases. What I described just now is well known, a confirmation bias in which you reinforce your belief in something based on selecting for information that supports the belief. In the development of his philosophy, Francis Bacon describes a couple of biases. Russell says, “One of the most famous parts of Bacon’s philosophy is his enumeration of what he calls ‘idols,’ by which he means bad habits of mind that cause people to fall into error.”[7]

Francis Bacon’s idols

I found Russell’s discussion of the Idols to be a little lacking, so I turn to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the overview article of Francis Bacon, written by Jürgen Klein and Guido Giglioni. Klein and Giglioni start by saying that Bacon does not establish an epistemology by which we view facts, but rather cautions against the errors we are liable to make when forming ideas. They say “He does not sketch a basic epistemology but underlines that the images in our mind right from the beginning do not render an objective picture of true objects. Consequently, we have to improve our mind. i.e., free it from the idols, before we start any knowledge acquisition.”[8] You can think of the warped view that we form of the world, as an example, through language. We call things whatever we call them because at some point we heard someone else say that it is called that thing. We take this for granted, and our view of the thing is partially overridden by the name we give it. A pencil calls to image the verb of writing, but a pencil can also be used as a stabbing object, or as a prop for something else. Nonetheless, we hardly turn to these ideas of use when we see or think of a pencil, and to get us to these other ideas of use, we have to work outside of our own mind. Thus, we have to free our mind from the idols we have to be able to collect information without painting the data in one way or another.

They present four idols in the article, whereas Russell presents five, but I find his fifth to be the same as the second, so we will not bother with it.

The first are the Idols of the tribe, the authors say that these “have their origin in the production of false concepts due to human nature, because the structure of human understandings is like a crooked mirror, which causes distorted reflections (of things in the external world).”[9] We can think of this one as simply the faulty observation of our senses. We assume that what we see is simply the truth, and that it is what it is. But if you show someone something in the distance, if it has the silhouette of a human, we expect it to be a human and perhaps we even warp our vision in our understanding for it to be a human, but as it gets closer, our doubts grow until it reaches a spilling over point, where we have to concede that it is not a person, but rather a chimpanzee.

The second are the idols of the cave, which “consist of conceptions or doctrines which are dear to the individual who cherishes them, without possessing any evidence of their truth. These idols are due to the preconditioned system of every individual, comprising education, custom, or accidental or contingent experiences.”[10] We can think of it as simple superstitions. If it rains cats and dogs with thunder, then we may be liable to attach it to a belief of punishment from God, as was typically done in the medieval and preceding ages as an attempt to understand the reason for varied weather conditions.

The third are the idols of the marketplace, “based on false conceptions which are derived from public human communication. They enter our minds quietly by a combination of words and names, so that it comes to pass that not only does reason govern words, but words react on our understanding.”[11] We can satisfy ourselves with the example I gave earlier of language. Our nature predisposes us to stick to one understanding of objects connected to the word which is attached to it, and this warps our vision to enhance the single particular use in place of the generalized use.

The fourth are the idols of the theatre, which are “prejudices stemming from received or traditional philosophical systems.”[12] This last one can be thought of as religious sort of belief which warps our ability to collect data. The Christian belief that God is an immaterial thing (for the most part, some Christians think differently) can warp our understanding of the world so that later ideas can be retroactively fitted into the received belief that God is immaterial.

This example is particularly useful since scientific studies are not necessarily held back by this belief, since if the belief is that God is immaterial, then the scientific study of causes and effects need not include God at any point, since all they must believe is that God set it in motion as described in Genesis and it has simply operated continuously as cause and effect. Nonetheless, as the study of the world goes further and further, the idea of an immaterial god affecting the world recedes further and further as we find reasonable causes for the effects that we see.

That is all for this week. I would emphasize one last time to think about the sources of evidence and how they work and their status in an argument. Deduction relies on evidence that is definitive, but I would say that the definitive evidence comes with a few caveats; for the evidence to be valid you would require an analysis of the idols described above and see whether they affect them and to hold them in one’s mind. As for induction, if the Williams example wasn’t good enough, think of ice instead. If you got an ice cube from the fridge and put it in a cup and then left for an hour, you would expect the ice to melt and water to take its place. If you repeated this over and over it would still be same melt and water, but if the ice didn’t melt one time, you would start to question whether the environment is colder, or whether the ice is different in some way, rather than to say that it was a freak accident that the ice didn’t melt, even though you could replicate the experiment and verify thousands of time, the ice not melting would put to question the assumption that ice will melt at room temperature or the conditions surrounding the experiment.


“High-Heeled Shoe.” In Wikipedia, August 20, 2023.

Klein, Jürgen, and Guido Giglioni. “Francis Bacon.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2020. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2020.

Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. A Touchstone Book. New York u.a: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

[1] “High-Heeled Shoe.”

[2] Russell, A History of Western Philosophy. (541)

[3] Russell. (p. 542)

[4] Russell. (p. 544)

[5] Russell. (p. 544)

[6] Russell. (pp. 544-545)

[7] Russell. (p. 544)

[8] Klein and Giglioni, “Francis Bacon.”

[9] Klein and Giglioni.

[10] Klein and Giglioni.

[11] Klein and Giglioni.

[12] Klein and Giglioni.

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