Article ID: CBB585944903

Crucial Instances and Francis Bacon’s Quest for Certainty (2017)


Francis Bacon’s method of induction is often understood as a form of eliminative induction. The idea, on this interpretation, is to list the possible formal causes of a phenomenon and, by reference to a copious and reliable natural history, to falsify all of them but one. Whatever remains must be the formal cause. Bacon’s crucial instances are often seen as the crowning example of this method. In this article, I argue that this interpretation of crucial instances is mistaken, and it has caused us to lose sight of why Bacon assigns crucial instances a special role in his quest for epistemic certainty about formal causes. If crucial instances are interpreted eliminatively, then they are subject to the two problems related to underdetermination raised by Duhem: (1) that it is impossible to be certain one has specified all of the possible alternatives and (2) that an experiment falsifies a whole theory, not just a single hypothesis in isolation. I show that Bacon anticipates and aims to dodge both of these problems by conceiving of crucial instances as working, in the ideal case, through direct affirmations that are supported by links to more foundational knowledge.

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Authors & Contributors
Achinstein, Peter
Balzer, Wolfgang
Cobb, Aaron D.
Davies, E. B.
Di Fate, Victor Joseph
Douglas, Heather E.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of Science
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
British Journal for the History of Science
Bruniana & Campanelliana: Ricerche Filosofiche e Materiali Storico-testuali
History of Psychiatry
Stanford University
Cambridge University Press
Franco Angeli
University of Pittsburgh Press
Philosophy of science
Methodology of science; scientific method
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Newton, Isaac
Popper, Karl Raimund
Whewell, William
Mill, John Stuart
Norton, John
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
17th century
16th century
Great Britain

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