Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. Edited by Joseph Devey. New York: P. F. Collier Son, 1901.

 

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. Edited by Joseph Devey. New York: P. F. Collier Son, 1901.

The discussion of the "idols" is short and sweet. (pp. 19-22) There is a brief footnote as to what
Bacon meant by idols which is worth quoting: "It is argued by Hallam, with some appearance of
truth, that idols is not the correct translation of the Greek from which the original ‘idola' is
manifestly derived but that Bacon used it in the literal sense attached to it by the Greeks, as a
species of illusion, or false appearance, and not as a species of divinity before which the mind
bows down." (pp. 19-20)

The idols are of the Tribe, Den, Market and Theater. The idols of the tribe are inherent in human
nature and the very tribe or race of man, for man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of
things ... The idols of the den are those of each individual for everybody (in addition to the errors
common to the race of man) has his own individual den or cavern, which intercepts and corrupts
the light of nature...so that the spirit of man is variable, confused, and as it were actuated by
chance... There are also idols formed by the reciprocal intercourse and society of man with man,
which we call idols of the market... words still manifestly force the understanding, throw
everything into confusion, and lead mankind into vain and innumerable controversies and
fallacies. Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men's minds from the various dogmas of
peculiar systems of philosophy, and also from the perverted rules of demonstration, and these we
denominate idols of the theatre...fictions of theatrical worlds...

Bacon's initial idol of the Tribe covers popular foibles in the thinking process - primarily the
insistence that Nature is as the human mind would have it - but also embraces such common
fallacies as selecting favorable instances and rashly generalizing.

The idol of the Den is that of the individual cast and limitation of outlook, making men
nonunderstanding and intolerant of others' ways. It is the personal or class idol of prejudice and
bigotry. The idol of the Marketplace recognizes that opinions operate socially, as "it is by
discourse that men associate." The undue deference to public opinion - in our pragmatic days, the
idol of the bandwagon and the box office - belongs here, as does also the confusing effect of the
‘counters of thought' (words), as confusing today as in Bacon's time.

The idol of the Theatre - which is both stage and platform - is particularly directed to the
contentions of the scholastic contingent. It applies to doctrines fostered by authority, tradition,
vested interests, and to false notions introduced by "worlds of their own creation after an unreal
and scenic fashion." The bulk of scholastic and ecclesiastical doctrine was so much conceptual
and verbal scenery and screenery - a windmill version of reality against which academic knights
tilted.