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Francis Bacon - Philosophy and LearningFrancis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning


Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

English philosopher (pictured right) and one of Elizabeth I’s top ministers.


His most famous book is...

The Advancement of Learning (1605).


What did he say about learning?

Francis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning


1. “Knowledge is power”

Knowledge (meaning the practical knowledge to do things) gives you the power to;

  • make the most of your ability.
  • reach the right decisions.

So give everyone the opportunity to learn.


2. Innovate, experiment and observe

Knowledge comes from empiricism i.e. from experience and observation



a) always improve 

Continually seek new and better ways of doing things.

 Francis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning

b) question existing knowledge

Discard old, useless ideas.

“Begin with doubts, and you shall end with certainties, but begin with certainties and you will end with doubts”, he said.


c) continuously experiment and observe

Bacon died from bronchitis caused by going out in the winter to stuff a chicken with snow to see if the cold would preserve it.


3. Great learning has good purpose

To learn well you need to like yourself and so do something good and worthwhile e.g. helping others.Francis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning

Bacon distinguished between:

  • ethics (doing good) and
  • religion (serving and obeying God).



4. Obstacles to learning

Four “idols” stop us learning:


a) idols of the tribe

Common to nearly everyone like:

  • oversimplification.
  • superstition.
  • believing events that hide the real truth.


b) idols of the cave

Obstacles to learning peculiar to each person.


c) idols of the marketplace 

(from misleading or meaningless language).


d) idols of the theatre 

(from the wrong philosophy and beliefs).


5. Find the real causes of something

If one thing (X) happens after another (Y), this doesn’t necessarily mean that Y causes X.

You must always look for situations when X happens without Y. This may indicate another cause.

 Francis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning

6. Action

Learning is only useful, if it helps you to do useful things.

So a theory should apply to every possible situation.

Don’t look for problems and excuses to justify inaction, but actively and optimistically seek solutions to problems.


7. Don’t just rely on one subject

Different subjects are related to each other, and using the wisdom from each one will help you learn.


8. Learn from adversity

You will become a better person, if you have the courage and determination to learn from your problems.

Virtue is found best in adversity.

 Francis Bacon - Philosophy and Learning

9. Listen to other people

Good advice and constructive discussion will increase your knowledge.

So listen more and talk less!


Key quotes on knowledge and empowerment

Knowledge is power.


Key quote on innovation

He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.


Key quote on positive thinking

Hope is a good breakfast, but a poor supper.


Key quote on ethics

Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.


Key quote on money

Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.


Key quote on business success

A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.


Key quote on careers

Choose the life that is most useful.


Key quote on stress and pain

Our sorrows are our schoolmasters.


Key quote on influencing people

Beggars should not be choosers.


Key quote on leadership

The difficulties in princes’ business are many and great, but the greatest difficulty is often in their own mind.


Key quote on peace of mind

Fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen and drowns things weighty and solid.


Key quote on learning and wisdom

Begin with doubts, and you shall end with certainties, but begin with certainties and you will end with doubts. 

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