Francis Bacon and the 'Interpretation of Nature' in the Late Renaissance
University of Pennsylvania Press
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Serjeantson, R. (2014). Francis Bacon and the 'Interpretation of Nature' in the Late Renaissance. Isis, 105 681-705. https://doi.org/10.1086/679419
The “interpretation of nature” (interpretatio naturae) is the leading idea in Francis Bacon’s natural philosophy. But by contrast with his ideas about method, induction, or experiment, the significance of the “interpretation of nature” has received very little scholarly attention. This essay tests the originality of Bacon’s idea by means of a focused survey of existing forms of Renaissance natural knowledge—Aristotelian and anti-Aristotelian natural philosophy, Galenic and Paracelsian medicine, natural magic, physiognomy, natural history—before turning to consider the much more prominent place of “interpretation” in the fields of Renaissance logic, revealed and natural theology, and law. It finds that Bacon’s application of the idea of “interpretation” to nature was highly original, but also that certain important aspects of his conception have analogies in Renaissance civil law. The essay concludes by exploring the implications of these findings for a recent body of scholarship in the history of the sciences that invokes the notion of the “interpretation of nature” to characterize pre-Baconian natural philosophy more generally.
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/679419
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/246267