Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of Modernity

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600, burnt alive by the Church) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) put forward a clear program of domination or conquest of nature around about 1583-85, the time that Bruno visited England.
“The gods have given man intelligence and hands, and have made them in their image, endowing him with a capacity superior to other animals. This capacity consists not only in the power to work in accordance with nature and the usual course of things, but beyond that and outside her laws, to the end that by fashioning, or the power to fashion, other natures, other courses, other orders by means of his intelligence, with that freedom without which his resemblance to the deity would not exist, he might in the end make himself god of the earth … providence has decreed that man should be occupied in action by the hands and in contemplation by the intellect, but in such a way that he may not contemplate without action or work without contemplation …. when difficulties beset them or necessities reappeared … they sharpened their wits, invented industries and discovered arts … by force of necessity, from the depths of the human mind rose new and wonderful inventions.”
- Bruno, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast
Albert Schweitzer points out that an optimistic view of a modern world where knowledge, standard of living and health could all be improved (as compared with passive acceptance of ignorance, poverty and ill health) met considerable opposition from historical forces. Plato's ethic is world negation., Plato and Aristotle accepted slavery and so did not envisage the liberation of Humanity as a whole. The Epicureans and Stoics preached resignation.

Bacon took the moral stance that real charity involved meeting peoples needs in the full Christian sense of brotherly love. He contrasted this with the tendency of the Greeks to quarrel about opinions.

After dabbling in politics, initially without much success, Bacon took the view that invention was more useful than politics because it is felt everywhere and lasts forever.

Invention required the use of both intellect and labour, the head and the hand. The “mechanical arts” became central to Bacon's vision, he wanted the concepts spread far and wide to a thousand hands and a thousand eyes.

Bacon persistently criticised the influence of Aristotle and Plato on contemporary thinking because their mode of thinking (dialectical argument) did not support the rapid development of the mechanical arts.

Reference:
The Philosophy of Francis Bacon by Benjamin Farrington (1964), Ch 4, 5 and 6

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