Friday, July 10, 2015

Bacon's Four Idols

I meant to write about this last month.  The most striking part of Bacon was this:
There are four classes of Idols which best men's minds. To these for distinction's sake I have assigned names, calling he first class Idols of the Tribe; the second, Idols of the Cave; the third, Idols of the Market Place; the fourth, Idols of the Theater.
Each Idol is interesting.

1. "The Idols of the Tribe have their foundation in the human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men."  These are the false things that men believe because it falls in line with human experience.  The idea that the sun went around the earth falls into this category because from the simple experience of sunrise and sunset, it made sense.  It was only with direct measurements of stars and planets that the truth could be gained.
2. "The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man."  These are the individual beliefs and superstitions that everyone has.  I may believe that the wearing of a certain shirt will always bring about a good day for me, because within my memory it always has.  But without a rigorous test, I can't tell that for certain.  (And if that test was positive, it would simply set off a whole new batch of tests, etc.)
3. "There are also Idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Market Place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there."  These are the things that we believe as a people, in part because that belief is strong in the people around us.  I think this happens at every work place and almost certainly happens within each industry.
4. "Lastly there are Idols which have immigrated into men's minds from the various dogmas of philosophies, and also from wrong laws of demonstration.  These I call Idols of the Theater, because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion."  I think this would encompass the cultural values that are passed on through TV and movies.  Maybe through books too, though that seems more culturally scattered now.  Political beliefs probably also fall into this category, or at least are vulnerable for the same reasons.

I don't know the way to avoid all of these idols but surely the first step is to simply be aware of the pitfalls that are out there.

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