An examination of Francis Bacons Novum Organum frontispiece is bound to reveal ships leaving the Mediterranean destined to the vast waters of the Atlantic. This new implied analogy was intended to introduce Bacons experience based learning as a replacement of Aristotles deductive logic learning technique as contained in his book Organon. Humans have been on a quest for knowledge and truth from time immemorial. Francis Bacon, in his philosophical book which translates to New Method fronts that experience is the ultimate and most important source of knowledge and truth. In developing his idea, Bacon comes up with four different categorizations (which he termed as idols) through which human quest for knowledge and truth are clouded. The four idols that beset the human mind include the idols of the cave, idols of the tribe, idols of the marketplace and idols of the theatre. They are termed as idols since we live in a society where we strive to know authentic knowledge and truth, especially now that the society has made huge progressive leaps in terms of learning and education. This paper explores the four idols as described by Bacon and relate with the contemporary society to ascertain whether they are still relevant.
Idols of tribe represent the general consensus and tendencies engrained in our minds as a result of the influence from the community. What the society deems as important has a strong bearing on our perception of what we ultimately end up believing to be the truth. If a community holds a certain premise to be the absolute truth, an individual residing in that community will be obliged to agree with the majority so as to fit in. These idols are inherent in the very essence of human nature, trickling down to the race and ultimately to ones tribe. Bacon uses the analogy of a mirror to describe these fallacies. Mans perceptions are derived from his own thinking and not from the universe. The human mind on its own is like a broken mirror each giving a different reflection of the fragmented objects, and not the object as a whole.
An idol of the market implies the erroneous trust placed on the use of words. Back in the days of Bacon, the market represented a place where people engaged in verbal intercourse. Language could be used carelessly to misconstrue the true meaning of words. Fallacies of ambiguity often arise out of placing too much faith on the meaning of words. Words often have more than one meaning. Furthermore, the reader usually interprets a word differently from what the writer originally intended; a phenomenon described by Bacon as a wonderful obstruction of the mind.
Idols of the cave represents are the fallacies inherent in an individual rather than the community as a whole. Personal preferences and desires can blind someone from thinking clearly. By a pattern of repetitive and cumulative actions, an individual slowly develops taste for information that best suit his or her own preferences. This can be an impediment in the quest for the truth. This idol is closely linked with the fallacy of the stick where one chooses to stick with their own preferences irrespective of the truth so as to avoid the discomfort that might be experienced from their deviation. Since I would rather preserve my den, I would take it to mean nothing but the truth.
The idols of the theatre, according to Bacon represent the ideas that have been played out as in a stage scenario by renowned and popular people within our cultures. The individual spectator within the society is impressed and moved by the oratory prowess of the experts. These are the ideologies that have been handed down to us from previous generations. Such dogmatic beliefs and ideologies could deter the quest for the truth, hindering us from peeking out of the heavy shackles of culture. Aristotles conclusions, for instance were taken to be the real truths; they were rarely questioned. Here, we see a blind belief in whatever a renowned figure said that had a close relation to the truth.
In the contemporary society, Bacons idols of theatre represent a closer picture of the events that transpire in our societies today. A common application of the idols of theater in the modern society would be in the spheres of religion and corporate organizations. The conflict between religion versus science has been raging for ages; notably creationism versus evolution. From a Christian perspective, this conflict centers on man and God and not really an issue of science and religion. In the Garden of Eden story, man was in pursuit of knowledge just as he still is in the current society. The conflict however arises when he seeks knowledge without submitting to the Creator of the universe. According to Bacon, we should constantly be aware of the battle between natural philosophy, superstition and the blind and immoderate zeal of religion. Natural philosophy caused a vast majority of orthodox Christians to study the natural universe to ascertain the existence of an intelligent design. Humanists belief that there universe offers insight into the our existential truth; not believing entirely in biblical and Christian faith which has the premise that human beings can only understand and know their true purpose for existence through having faith in their Creator. Both are in pursuit of truth and knowledge, but a conflict arises in their means to the truth. This has also led to sprouting of many religious sects each pursuing truth on its own premises.
Corporate organizations also represent the idiocy of rampant bureaucracies in our society today. The formal structures of most organizations represent the myths of their corporate environment rather than a focus on the demand s based on their technologies and their set objectives. In essence, these organizations formulate their structures in a way that suits their selfish needs to gain power rather than to focus on meeting the needs of their customers. The appraisal system prevalent in most organizations is a perfect example of the theatre phenomenon where people who perform poorly strive to impress and improve their performance owing to the motivation of performance based rewards. Departments in an organization mimicking each other and coming up with uniform codes that force employees to behave in a similar manner is another perfect example of this theatre syndrome.
In pursuit of thrush and knowledge, human beings need to overcome barriers inherent in the society as well as personal attributes so as to experience truth in its totality. The pursuit of knowledge and truth while in bondage of cultural limitations and personal prejudices will only limit our experience of authentic truth.