Roger Bacon: A Franciscan introducing the experimental method


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On 11 June (?) 1292, Roger Bacon (1214–1292) died at Oxford, England.

He was a Franciscan monk who was one of the first to propose mathematics & experimentation as methods of science. Drawing on Latin translations of Aristotle and the writings Arab scientists, he described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and verification. 

His interest in foreign languages and other philosophical traditions began as a student. Reading biblical manuscripts at Paris, he encountered discrepancies in the texts; thereafter, he endeavored to uncover their true meaning and assess their claims against the discoveries of the natural sciences. One biographer notes:

“He is never tired of pointing out the amount of injury done to the spread of knowledge, and to the Church in consequence of the utter neglect of these languages. He frequently reminds his readers that all science was originally revealed to the ancient Hebrews, from whom it descended to the Egyptians and the Greeks… ‘prima tradita est principaliter et complete in lingua Hebraea’ (Opus Tertium, x)… ‘Latini nullum textum composuerunt, scilicet, neque theologiae neque philosophiae… manifestum est necessarium fore Latinis, ut si volunt puro, et sano, et efficaci sapientiae liquore potari, quod in fonte Hebraici sermonis, et Graeci, et Arabici, tanquam in primitivis vasis, discant sapientiam exhaurire’ (Compendium Studii Philosophiae, vii.). He urges, therefore, the study of Hebrew and Greek, as being indispensable to the spread of true knowledge, to the preparation of accurate translations of the works of the ancients…”

Through the writings of Roger Bacon, the Church gave Europe the mindset needed to believe it could study and learn about the natural world through experimentation, rather than reason alone, utilized by the Ancient Greeks.

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Source: Nolan, Edmond & S.A. Hirsch. The Greek Grammar of Roger Bacon and a Fragment of his Hebrew Grammar. (Cambridge, GB: The University Press, 1902), xv-xvi.

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