Francis Bacon's "The Idols"
Alexis Norris
Mr. Beasley
U.S. & World Affairs
January 20, 2001

US & World Affairs Final

1.    Francis Bacon's “The Idols”
    At the onset I was prejudiced against Bacon, because I read he was a man of science.  I feel that science and philosophy don't mix very well.  However, Bacon gave an insightful description of the obstructions to clear thinking.  He defines idols as the things we *think* we know.  Then he goes on to talk about the merits of true induction, which are practicle to be sure in the area of science but cold and inhuman in other areas.  
    The first of the idols are “The Idols of the Tribe”.  This is where we rely on our senses, and don't stop to think that maybe our senses lie to us, or don't give us the entire truth.  The instinct and emotion we call human nature could be another side of this.  Upon perceiving anything we immediately think of how we might shape it, how to milk it of its resources, how to leave man's imprint.  We justify our tampering by calling it “betterment”.  Perhaps I misunderstood this, but I very much disagree.  What is there but for our senses?  Are we supposed to be like robots, depending primarily on fact, not listening to what our senses are whispering, our instincts tickling?  Maybe he didn't mean that though.  Maybe he meant thinking of things on a larger scale.  When we wonder if we have made a difference, we think of other people, not the universe.  Maybe we should broaden our horizons a bit.
    Then there are the “Idols of the Den”.  I saw this as outside influence.  The people whose books I read are individuals, not the absolute authority on the subject, real flesh-and-blood people.  But when their words are printed on paper and bound, it magically transforms their thoughts into something more than mere opinion (if only marginally).  If someone I admire greatly expresses what he or she think is true and it makes sense to me, I will adopt it as my own truth.  Maybe this is wrong.  Maybe I should be like lava, flowing over everything, but then burning it away instead of bringing it with me.  If I were without any influence at all, if I lived in a world that left no impression, would my thoughts be only original?  Would I burn holes with the clear brilliance of my mind?  Or would I be very dull?
    Again, I disagree with Bacon on this to some extent.  I don't understand how he expects human beings to completely discard their humanity.  Before we can devise our own conclusion isn't it imperative that we know of others?  I would rather be variable than completely resolute regarding my opinions.  What is wrong with being variable!  Here he conflicts with Emerson, because Emerson was against complete consistency of thought.  
    The third of the idols are “Idols of the Market”.  This is society, person-to-person interaction.  Here Bacon says that most men are inarticulate, and that words are useless anyway.  He says words make things into something they are not for lack of a better description, and ultimately they are the roots of evil and strife.  
    How ridiculous!  I didn't know that telepathy was such a widespread talent.  What are there but for words?  They are mostly our only means of communication.  I am in extreme disagreement with Bacon here.  Maybe language does cause trouble sometimes because of misunderstanding, but things will always be misunderstand.  How is this to be eliminated from human thought habits?
    The final of the Idols are Idols of the Theatre.  Into this go all the stories we heard when we were children.  Goodness is always rewarded, and bad things always happen to bad people.  When we get older we realize that this isn't always so but maybe, in the back of our minds, we halfway believe it to be true.  The hero goes to heaven and the villain goes to hell.  Religion would go into this category, and any other dogmatic institution that insists upon creeds and rules.  This I agree with more than the others, but again, this is something people need.  Institutions give a welcome relief from decisions; everything is clear-cut and laid out for you.  Some people really need habit and routine--they cannot handle insolubility.  Why condemn these people?  We are even romantic and fictitious when it comes to fate...we believe that if someone is bad off, they surely did something to deserve it.  We never entertain the possibility that fate is like a tornado, hitting the innocent as well as the guilty.
    On a whole I disagree with Bacon.  We are made of Idols.  They have grown onto us and by tearing them away, we tear away pieces of our skin and bone.  Idols may be our weakness, but our weaknesses make us human.  More than anything, I loathe the general tone of this piece.  He has a very pretentious way of stating his opinions, and my opinion that science and philosophy don't mix is reinforced.