Probability, certainty and facts in Francis Bacon's natural histories : a double attitude towards skepticism
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In Maia Neto, José Raimundo, Gianni Paganini & John Christian Laursen (eds.), Skepticism in the Modern Age: Building on the Work of Richard Popkin. Brill. 123--138 (2009)
Bacon’s project suggests in theory that the obtaining of absolute certain knowledge is possible but in fact such knowledge is revealed to be impossible. Th e description of the human mind on which Bacon’s account is based seems to imply that the impossibility of obtaining absolute certainty does not depend on the contingent historical situation of a preliminary stage of the scientifi c endeavor. Consequently, a gap emerges between the proposed goal of science and the ways to reach it: Bacon tried to obtain absolute certainty but he only could arrive at degrees of certainty and probability both in theories and in facts. Malgrè lui, Bacon shows himself developing in fact a kind of probabilistic science instead of surpassing the limits to knowledge posed by the skeptical arguments. Th at is the reason why many of his followers could develop a mitigated skepticism in the framework of a Baconian science.
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