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Roger Bacon

Birthdate: 1220
Date of death: 1292

Roger Bacon , also known by the scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism. In the early modern era, he was regarded as a wizard and particularly famed for the story of his mechanical or necromantic brazen head. He is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired by Aristotle and by later scholars such as the Arab scientist Alhazen. His linguistic work has been heralded for its early exposition of a universal grammar. However, more recent re-evaluations emphasise that Bacon was essentially a medieval thinker, with much of his "experimental" knowledge obtained from books in the scholastic tradition. He was, however, partially responsible for a revision of the medieval university curriculum, which saw the addition of optics to the traditional quadrivium. A survey of how Bacon's work was received over the centuries found that it often reflected the concerns and controversies that were central to his readers.

Bacon's major work, the Opus Majus, was sent to Pope Clement IV in Rome in 1267 upon the pope's request. Although gunpowder was first invented and described in China, Bacon was the first in Europe to record its formula.

Works

Opus Majus
Roger Bacon
Opus Tertium
Roger Bacon

„For the things of this world cannot be made known without a knowledge of mathematics.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Majus

Cited in: Opus majus: A translation by Robert Belle Burke. Vol 1 (1962). p. 128
Opus Majus, c. 1267
Context: For the things of this world cannot be made known without a knowledge of mathematics. For this is an assured fact in regard to celestial things, since two important sciences of mathematics treat of them, namely theoretical astrology and practical astrology. The first … gives us definite information as to the number of the heavens and of the stars, whose size can be comprehended by means of instruments, and the shapes of all and their magnitudes and distances from the earth, and the thicknesses and number, and greatness and smallness, … It likewise treats of the size and shape of the habitable earth … All this information is secured by means of instruments suitable for these purposes, and by tables and by canons.. For everything works through innate forces shown by lines, angles and figures.

„But I did not work all that much, since in the pursuit of Wisdom this was not required.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

OQHI, 65 http://www.mlat.uzh.ch/MLS/text.php?tabelle=Rogerus_Baco_cps4&rumpfid=Rogerus_Baco_cps4,%20Opus%20tertium,%20%2020&corpus=4&lang=0&current_title=Opus%20tertium&links=&inframe=1 as cited in: Jeremiah Hackett (2009) """" Roger Bacon http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/roger-bacon"""" in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Opus Tertium, c. 1267
Context: I have labored much in sciences and languages, and I have up to now devoted forty years [to them] after I first learned the Alphabetum; and I was always studious. Apart from two of these forty years I was always [engaged] in study [or at a place of study], and I had many expenses just as others commonly have. Nevertheless, provided I had first composed a compendium, I am certain that within quarter or half a year I could directly teach a solicitous and confident person whatever I know of these sciences and languages. And it is known that no one worked in so many sciences and languages as I did, nor so much as I did. Indeed, when I was living in the other state of life [as a Magister], people marveled that I survived the abundance of my work. And still, I was just as involved in studies afterwards, as I had been before. But I did not work all that much, since in the pursuit of Wisdom this was not required.

„Oh how delightful is the taste of wisdom to those who are“

—  Roger Bacon

Compendium Studii Theologiae (1292) c. viii. & Brewer's Bacon http://books.google.com/books?id=xugSScQC_bEC (1859) p. 466 as cited by George Gresley Perry, The Life and Times of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln (1871)
Context: Oh how delightful is the taste of wisdom to those who are thus steeped in it from its very fount and origin. They who have not tried this cannot feel the delight of wisdom, just as a sick man cannot estimate the flavour of food. But because they are affected with this sort of mental sickness, and their intellect in this matter is as it were deaf from their very birth, so as not to appreciate the delight of harmony, on this account they grieve not at this so great loss of wisdom, though indeed without doubt it is an infinite loss.

„All other sciences are called speculative: they are not concerned with the deeds of the present or future life affecting man's salvation or damnation. All procedures of art and of nature are“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

Source: Opus Tertium, c. 1267, Ch. 14 as quoted in J. H. Bridges, The 'Opus Majus' of Roger Bacon (1900) Vol.1 http://books.google.com/books?id=6F0XAQAAMAAJ Preface pp.x-xi
Context: All these foregoing sciences are, properly speaking, speculative. There is indeed in every science a practical side, as Avicenna teaches in the first book of his Art of Medicine. Nevertheless, of Moral Philosophy alone can it be said that it is in the special and autonomatic sense practical, dealing as it does with human conduct with reference to virtue and vice, beatitude and misery. All other sciences are called speculative: they are not concerned with the deeds of the present or future life affecting man's salvation or damnation. All procedures of art and of nature are directed to these moral actions, and exist on account of them. They are of no account except in that they help forward right action. Thus practical and operative sciences, as experimental alchemy and the rest, are regarded as speculative in reference to the operations with which moral or political science is concerned. This science is the mistress of every department of philosophy. It employs and controls them for the advantage of states and kingdoms. It directs the choice of men who are to study in sciences and arts for the common good. It orders all members of the state or kingdom so that none shall remain without his proper work.

„The strongest argument proves nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

OQHI, 43 http://www.mlat.uzh.ch/MLS/text.php?tabelle=Rogerus_Baco_cps4&rumpfid=Rogerus_Baco_cps4,%20Opus%20tertium,%20%2013&level=3&corpus=4&lang=0&current_title=Opus%20tertium&links=&inframe=1&hide_apparatus= as cited in: James J. Walsch (1911) """"Science at the Medieval Universities"""" in: Popular Science, May 1911, p. 449 http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Popular_Science_Monthly_Volume_78.djvu/459
Opus Tertium, c. 1267
Original: (la) [H]aec vocatur scientia experimentalis, quae negligit argumenta, quoniam non certificant, quantumcunque sint fortia, nisi simul adsit experientia conclusionis. Et ideo haec docet experiri conclusiones nobiles omnium scientiarum, quae in aliis scientiis aut probantur per argumenta, aut investigantur per experientias naturales et imperfectas...
Context: The strongest argument proves nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences, and the goal of all speculation.

„I have labored much in sciences and languages“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

OQHI, 65 http://www.mlat.uzh.ch/MLS/text.php?tabelle=Rogerus_Baco_cps4&rumpfid=Rogerus_Baco_cps4,%20Opus%20tertium,%20%2020&corpus=4&lang=0&current_title=Opus%20tertium&links=&inframe=1 as cited in: Jeremiah Hackett (2009) """" Roger Bacon http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/roger-bacon"""" in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Opus Tertium, c. 1267
Context: I have labored much in sciences and languages, and I have up to now devoted forty years [to them] after I first learned the Alphabetum; and I was always studious. Apart from two of these forty years I was always [engaged] in study [or at a place of study], and I had many expenses just as others commonly have. Nevertheless, provided I had first composed a compendium, I am certain that within quarter or half a year I could directly teach a solicitous and confident person whatever I know of these sciences and languages. And it is known that no one worked in so many sciences and languages as I did, nor so much as I did. Indeed, when I was living in the other state of life [as a Magister], people marveled that I survived the abundance of my work. And still, I was just as involved in studies afterwards, as I had been before. But I did not work all that much, since in the pursuit of Wisdom this was not required.

„And this [experimental] science verifies all natural and man-made things in particular, and in their appropriate discipline, by the experimental perfection, not by arguments of the still purely speculative sciences, nor through the weak, and imperfect experiences of practical knowledge. And therefore, this is the matron of all preceding sciences, and the final end of all speculation.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

Ch 13 ed. J. S. Brewer Opera quadam hactenus inedita (1859) p. 46
Opus Tertium, c. 1267
Original: (la) Et hæc scientia certificat omnia naturalia et artificialia in particulari et in propria disciplina, per experientiam perfectam; non per argumenta, ut scientiæ pure speculativae, nec per debiles et imperfecta experientias ut scientiae operativæ. Et ideo hæc est domina omnium scientiarum præcedentium, et finis totius speculationis.

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„Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical.“

—  Roger Bacon

Cited by Peter Nicholls (1979) The Encyclopedia of science fiction: an illustrated A to Z. p. 376

„To ask the proper question is half of knowing.“

—  Roger Bacon

Cited in: LIFE, 8 sept 1958, p. 73
Variant translation: Half of science is asking the right questions.
Original: (la) Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae.

„I use the example of the rainbow and of the phenomena connected with it, of which sort are the circle around the sun and the stars, likewise the rod lying at the side of the sun or of a star which appears to the eye in a straight line… called the rod by Seneca, and the circle is called the corona, which often has the colors of the rainbow. But neither Aristotle nor Avicenna, in their Natural Histories, has given us knowledge of things of this sort, nor has Seneca, who composed a special book on them. But Experimental Science makes certain of them. [The experimenter] considers rowers and he finds the same colors in the falling drops dripping from the raised oars when the solar rays penetrate drops of this sort. It is the same with waters falling from the wheels of a mill; and when a man sees the drops of dew in summer of a morning lying on the grass in the meadow or the field, he will see the colors. And in the same way when it rains, if he stands in a shady place and if the rays beyond it pass through dripping moisture, then the colors will appear in the shadow nearby; and very frequently of a night colors appear around the wax candle. Moreover, if a man in summer, when he rises from sleep and while his eyes are yet only partly opened, looks suddenly toward an aperture through which a ray of the sun enters, he will see colors. And if, while seated beyond the sun, he extend his hat before his eyes, he will see colors; and in the same way if he closes his eye, the same thing happens under the shade of the eyebrow; and again, the same phenomenon occurs through a glass vessel filled with water, placed in the rays of the sun. Or similarly if any one holding water in his mouth sprinkles it vigorously into the rays and stands to the side of the rays; and if rays in the proper position pass through an oil lamp hanging in the air, so that the light falls on the surface of the oil, colors will be produced. And so in an infinite number of ways, as well natural as artificial, colors of this sort appear, as the careful experimenter is able to discover.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Majus

6th part Experimental Science, Ch.2 Tr. Richard McKeon, Selections from Medieval Philosophers Vol.2 Roger Bacon to William of Ockham
Opus Majus, c. 1267

„One man I know, and one only, who can be praised for his achievements in this science. Of discourses and battles of words he takes no heed: he follows the works of wisdom, and in these finds rest. What others strive to see dimly and blindly, like bats in twilight, he gazes at in the full light of day, because he is a master of experiment. Through experiment he gains knowledge of natural things, medical, chemical, indeed of everything in the heavens or earth. He is ashamed that things should be known to laymen, old women, soldiers, ploughmen, of which he is ignorant. Therefore he has looked closely into the doings of those who work in metals and minerals of all kinds; he knows everything relating to the art of war, the making of weapons, and the chase; he has looked closely into agriculture, mensuration, and farming work; he has even taken note of the remedies, lot casting, and charms used by old women and by wizards and magicians, and of the deceptions and devices of conjurors, so that nothing which deserves inquiry should escape him, and that he may be able to expose the falsehoods of magicians. If philosophy is to be carried to its perfection and is to be handled with utility and certainty, his aid is indispensable. As for reward, he neither receives nor seeks it. If he frequented kings and princes, he would easily find those who would bestow on him honours and wealth. Or, if in Paris he would display the results of his researches, the whole world would follow him. But since either of these courses would hinder him from pursuing the great experiments in which he delights, he puts honour and wealth aside, knowing well that his wisdom would secure him wealth whenever he chose. For the last three years he has been working at the production of a mirror that shall produce combustion at a fixed distance; a problem which the Latins have neither solved nor attempted, though books have been written upon the subject.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Tertium

Bridges assumes that Bacon refers here to Peter Peregrinus of Maricourt.
Source: Opus Tertium, c. 1267, Ch. 13 as quoted in J. H. Bridges, The 'Opus Majus' of Roger Bacon (1900) Vol.1 http://books.google.com/books?id=6F0XAQAAMAAJ Preface p.xxv

„Everything in nature completes its action through its own force and species alone… as, for example, fire by its own force dries and consumes and does many things. Therefore vision must perform the act of seeing by its own force. But the act of seeing is the perception of a visible object at a distance, and therefore vision perceives what is visible by its own force multiplied to the object. Moreover, the species of the things of world are not fitted by nature to effect the complete act of vision at once, because of its nobleness. Hence these must be aided by the species of the eye, which travels in the locality of the visual pyramid, and changes the medium and ennobles it, and renders it analogous to vision, and so prepares the passage of the species itself of the visible object… Concerning the multiplication of this species, moreover, we are to understand that it lies in the same place as the species of the thing seen, between the sight and the thing seen, and takes place along the pyramid whose vertex is in the eye and base in the thing seen. And as the species of an object in the same medium travels in a straight path and is refracted in different ways when it meets a medium of another transparency, and is reflected when it meets the obstacles of a dense body; so is it also true of the species of vision that it travels altogether along the path of the species itself of the visible object.“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Majus

Bacon, like Grosseteste, asserts that both the active extramitted species of vision from the eye, and the intramitted species of light from object seen, were necessary for sight.
v. i. vii. 4, ed. Briggs as quoted in A.C. Crombie, Robert Grossetest and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700 (1953)
Opus Majus, c. 1267

„If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics…“

—  Roger Bacon, book Opus Majus

Bk. 1, ch. 4. Translated by Robert B. Burke, in: Edward Grant (1974) Source Book in Medieval Science. Harvard University Press. p. 93
Opus Majus, c. 1267

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