Learning from Experiment: Classification, Concept Formation and Modeling in Francis Bacon’s Experimental Philosophy

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This paper investigates some examples of Baconian experimentation, coming from Bacon’s ‘scientific’ works, i.e. his Latin natural histories and the posthumous Sylva Sylvarum. I show that these experiments fulfill a variety of epistemic functions. They have a classificatory function, being explicitly used to delimitate and define new fields of investigation. They also play an important role in concept formation. Some of the examples discussed in this paper show how Francis Bacon developed instruments and technologies for the production of new phenomena, using them subsequently to define new concepts. In some other cases, experiments can also play and important role in modeling natural phenomena. In examining the role and functions of Baconian experimentation, this paper uses common topics in philosophy of the scientific experiment. With this, it attempts to bridge the gap between the more historical Baconian studies and the contemporary philosophy of science. My examples are chosen with two purposes. On the one hand I intend to show that Bacon was fully aware of the diversity of epistemic functions experiments can play in the process of discovery. On the other hand, these examples are also chosen with the purpose of illustrating a somewhat more general claim, namely that a thorough investigation of Bacon’s natural and experimental histories can unveil a more complex picture of the relations between theory and experiment than it has been usually assumed.
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