The Position Held by The Academia Naturae Curiosorum


The Intellectual History of the 17th Century


it's Importance for the Development of Research Methods


The Field of Exact Sciences.

written by

Dr. Helmuth Minkowski, Berlin 1937

translated from German into English by Arthur B.Cornwall



Statue of Francis Bacon at Gray's Inn, London

The dissertations of the confessional, dynastic, political groups which became the subject-matter and background of the Thirty Years' War, are but the expression of that inner unrest and lack of unity that took possession of intellects during the 16th and 17th centuries and reached from the autumn of the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, to the New Age. The onslaught of great discoveries which expanded the cosmic conception in geography and in natural science to an unheard of extent, shook conclusively the well established fortress of abstractions of Christian world wide unity.

The unity of cosmic conception which previously spurred the Middle Ages to great achievements--mostly of speculative, non-scientific nature--gave way to a multitude of later doctrines, trends and opinions, chiefly because of its own one sidedness and rigidity of formulations and inability to adapt itself to the actual conditions of this earthy world and to solve its worn out contradictions. A world which had known but one mind, one purpose, one pattern, one cause, one accomplishment, had become questionable; had crumbled hopelessly away, in the course of little more than a century, into groups and interpretations, into the tenets of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, into Aristotelianism and Platonism, Scholasticism and Natural Philosophy, Catholicism and Protestantism, Lutheranism and Calvinism, reformation an counter-reformation, divine state and temporal powers, national states and federalists, into old and a new world, into the self-determanative ego and the world determined by the ego, into a knowledge of Nature guided by the "lumen rationale" and into another guided by the "lumen divinum."

Although all these dissertations had their day and resulted in the most contradictory alliances among themselves, only one of them survived the ravages of time; only one became of paramount importance, up to the present day, so far as the combined future development of cosmic conception is concerned: the dissertations on the cognitive-critical assumption of scholastic philosophy. This is that which conquered the pure Christian teleology of the world and prepared the foundations for the logical-rational procedure of the natural sciences..

While thus the labors of some research workers, probably because of ecclesiastical influence, are characterized by a dominant strain of true religiousness; while now positively under the same influence, but considering the special manner in which the Church zealously refuted the heretic knowledge of Nature by means of inquisitorial sentences, in the case of other enquirers the knowledge of the divine is only used as a pretext in order to evade possible persecution; while conflicts provoked since 1617 by Galileo's advocacy of the Copernican astronomical system produced a rift in the Old Testament cosmo-conception in favor of natural philosophy--- in the case of Francis Bacon, the English statesman and empirical Philosopher, whose "Novum Organum" and "Instauration Magma" contributed considerably to the overthrow of the Aristotelian-scholastic doctrines, the religious undercurrent is all but dwindled away.

However, even he draws still upon the Neo- Platonic conceptual world; because he not only aims to develop exact scientific researches already present in their germinal state by means of inductive - analytical researches to which he gave impetus, but he is also concerned with the same essence, with the "form" of the world,of nature, of man, of substance. But all these assumed a different purpose in his case. With him, the egotism of the Renaissance attained the highest degree. Man becomes the master of this terrestial world as soon as he suceeds in the cognition of the primal "forms" of all substances and of the laws of development in Nature.

Back of all these, there is the greatest desire of the Renaissance, to become master of the world and of substances; a desire for the fulfillment of which is mirrored in the case of Campanella and of others having a greater inclination to mysticism, in the domination of a great Universal Church in a Confederation of States; in the case of Comenius in reform-pedagogic designs, especially in the introduction of a universal language; but in the case of the more practically reasoning Englishman Bacon, the real issue of world dominance has also been considered. However different the phenomena of the wished for picture are, standing in the one case for the fulfillment of an ideal Republic, and, in the other, for dominance over Nature, the intellectual starting points apply nevertheless to both of them: that is to say, to try to subdue the world by means of speculative deliberations which, in their last analysis, revert to neo- Platonic exegesis, and to the domination of man.

We should not say that Bacon represents a figure in the intellectual history, to be classified as belonging exclusively to the one or to the other age. He belongs to a chapter in the development of intellectual history, visualized heretofore only in contrast to scholasticism and modern times, whereas, in reality, he is by inclination an entirely new and independant type. Just as searching for new methods produced results which only subsequently had been recognized in their full importance for practical conditions of life, so has Bacon, the creator, reached his full expansion only in his intellectual succession. Here we see the strange phenomenon, that Bacon was the only one on the whole horizon to anticipate already, in the abstract sense, the practical possibilities of the latest results of natural philosophy, which, in reality, were yet to be discovered. He conquers the material world by mans of the new method; his personal aim so lofty that it may well eclipse the higher purpose, to arrive athe knowledge of the divine. Bacon believed he had given the method by means of his instances and inductive instructions, which, in their essence, were supposed to indicate a turning away from the Aristotelian-syllogistic logic and their cosmo-conceptual utilization; but, basically, such was not the case.

We should set to work with their assistance. An individual is unable to accomplish this achievement, for which purpose a community of a number of like minded scientists is needed. Thus the idea of common work in scientific associations has been brought to light. This is the initial step which Bacon's spiritual descendants started out. The fact that Bacon thus became the creator of a great many of the European academies, has heretofore hardly received any attention. Furthermore, no attention has as yet been paid to the fact that the propostions submitted by Bacon for the purpose of establishing an association of scientists, have lost all connection with the Platonic spirit because of he new adoption of purpose and that they hardly, if at all, have been influenced by the pansophic spirit of this age.

During his lifetime, Bacon was filled with the idea of laying the foundations of a philosophical society endowed with most comprehensive tasks. Just as he anticipated, in theory, in his expectations for the future many results achieved only by means of exact methods developed at a later age, so he also recognized here the only possible form of a scientific association, assigning to it its appropriate tasks. We have been inclined for a long time to see in Bacon but a second rate reformer, beacause, apart from the program of the new age, he still remained quite scholastic in his own methods. But in order to achieve the right understanding, we must separate his own scientific achievements from the tasks which he, with purposeful insight into the peculiar temper of the new age, set as a program.

And right here mention should be made of a work of his, written towards the end of his life, probably 1623-1624, published only after his death as a fragment. It represents his scientific testament and his cosmic-conceptual bequest; he sketches in it, in the form of a political novel dealing with the island of New Atlantis, the activities of an association of scientists as he has visualized it. The desire and expectations of an entire age are unveiled in it. Here is where the power of th future envisaging creator stands out in bold relief next to Bacon's figure; the prophet stands next to the founder. The only way to comprehend his nature in its entirety is to grasp these two features together. We may reject, and justly so, his teachings in doctrinal philosophy; they do not represent that which is valuable today; it is, first of all, a survey of the future age, a survey stretching across three full centuries; secondly, the conception of grandiose scientific research institute, as represented by the Royal Society in England, which would not have been founded without the spiritual impetus that Bacon gave; and this holds also good for the furtherance of many a research in the field of exact sciences, which, however, have been accomplished in different ways from those conceived by Bacon.

In this romance of the future, "New Atlantis", Bacon outlines a Commonwealth, ruled by a powerful research institute, which thanks to its labors extending through the centuries, solved problems and achieved philosophical understanding that now permit the people of Bensalem to enjoy a more pleasant life. There are most of the scientific institutions founded but today, and, what is more, also those which do not ordinarily exist even today. Each special field of science, geology, botany, zoology, meterology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, mechancis, acoustics, optics, astronomy, comparative anatomy, experimental physiology, teratology, they all have their own house of research, laboratories, meteorological and biological observatories, stations for agricultural experiements, associations to promote studies for special purposes, all these are available.

This Commonwealth has known, three hundred years prior to their invention, the submarines, the aeroplanes, the radio, the gramaphone, the film and the micrphone. Ths land is artificially manured; gigantic quantities of energy are produced in engine houses, the heat of the earth's interior is made use of. Victuals are manufactured in a synthetic way; healing by air, water and diet is offered in special clinics. Experiments on animals are conducted in order to diagnose and to cure human diseases. All these inventions were posssible only, because the Commonwealth created an organization in which new inventions are followed up systematically, laboratories and experimetal stations govern the Commonwealth of New Atlantis in the true sense of the word. After all, the natural philosophers, who unveil there the secrets of life and Nature, are, at the same time, the true rulers of the country. Bacon uses this allusion to point out the necessity that each Commonwealth should lay the foundations of scientific institutions, conducting experiments for the benefit of the combined populaton, which a single scientist, standing by himself, could never achieve.

Thus Bacon was the first to use in a concrete sense the idea of such a central research institute generally discussed in his time. The idea has been translated into reality in his New Atlantis in 1627. Beginning with this year, the idea, quite unequivocally established, continues to act over a boundless range of time.

The effects which this fragmentary political novel produced on the spiritual life of the 17th century, especially as regards the organization of science, have remained almost unknown up to now. It certainly was the publication that gave the greatest impetus to those times, and the most important one as regards its effects. It was his work which gave the new idea of scientic research devoid of hypotheses to the scientific associations of the future, most openly advocated by Bacon, although he himself did not always adhere to it. This research work was the first to guide human thinking to Nature in full measure, human thinking that turned from extrinsic to instrinsic life during the Middle Ages; it set before man most emphatically the aim to recognize Nature through experience and through finding out the laws of interconnection in order to make her serviceable to us, in which connection the utilitarian purpose should not be comprehended in the light of petty ambition for personal advantage, in more exploitation of knowledge, but it should rather enable man to fulfill his cultural tasks.

These thoughts were so grandiose for their times that soon after Bacon's death already a movement was begun to materialize his plan calling for the foundation of such a house of research. The first scientists assembled in London in 1645 and united in the Invisible or Philosophical College, which was transformed into the Royal Society in 1662.

A few years later, 1665, the Academie des Sciences has been founded on the model of the Royal Society. In the year 1712 the foundation of the Academy of Bologna took place, according to the model of Bacon's Academy. Later effects of his genius may be seen in the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, in the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich, which carries Bacon's "rerum cognoscere causas" on its seal, and in most of the other scientific associations of Europe. Even the esoteric movement of Free-Masons and Rosicrurians tries, although incorrectly from a historical point of view, to base the form of their social order on the prototype described in the New Atlantis. Not much was known of these peculiar and significant effects which the little publication by Bacon produced. At best, they can be but approxiamately revealed, because the channels along which this political novel achieved effects, were manifold. Attempts were made on four occasions to finish the fragment; once it appeared as a Rosicrucian plagiarism, and it has been republished a hundred times. Glanvil, Raguet, Heydon, Hartlib, Schupp, Condorcet, Somerset, Etzler, Mercier, borrowed from it. There are conscious reversions to Bacon's propositions found in the works of the earliest members of the Royal Society, of Evelyn, Cowley, Pety. Adventurers, as for instance Thomas Bushell, Bacon's secretary, pansophists, and scholars with serious reputations, made use of it to give a good foundation to their own plans.

Bacon's effect made itself felt in many ways indeed. For this reason we cannot help but state approximately whether the effects have been, in special cases, impetus giving, formative or creative. The oldest records of the scientific associations are frequently missing, so that the proof of the intellectually determinative co-opeation of the New Atlantis can be adduced only in an indirect manner. We may consider as absolutely reliable the influence exercised upon the Academies mentioned. They have been founded, especially the Royal Society and the Academy in Bologna, directly with reference to Bacon's publication. It set their tasks.

Generally, only intellectuals of the same calibre as Bacon accepted his ideas and permitted them to develop. They shared with him his aim, to master and to conquer Nature. This should not be lost sight of, since such procedure required men with with a scientific attitude and not esoteric dreamers. Of course, it cannot be denied that occasionally also intellectuals with visionary dispostions took active part in the foundation of scientific associations, even in that of the Philosophical College, the forerunner of the Royal Society. However, the opinion according to which all private societies had been founded under the influence of the Rosicrucian Johannes Valentin Andreae, is essentially too far fetched; this does not hold good at all in the case of associations contemplating the realizations of the fundamental ideas of objective research and of the cosmic-conception of the "New Atlantis." They have quite different aims from those of the Rosicrucian,pansophical, esoteric and cabbalistic secret societies. Whatever philosophic-neo-Platonic and religious conceptions they still contain, are restricted to the sphere of peculiar convictions and opinions prevailing in this age concerning the origin of all substances. Platonism having conquered scholasticism and the search after a newer cosmo-conception having been impregnated by a casual touch of pansophistic conceptions, everything that cannot be brought into harmony with the experiences discovered in the meantime, will be rejected.

That Bacon's New Atlantis found such a manifold imitation, and above all, an imitation favoring exact scientific researches, shows what a stirring effect this publication had upon tht century which endeavored, more and more clearly, to move away from that speculative "science". It was enabled to exercise such an effect because it contained a program, to the realization of which Bacon had already made several clear allusions in his previous publications.

So it combined apart its utopian character theory and practice in the best manner, new methods with new aims. For this reason alone could it become the pioneer. These circumstances should be considered in foremost place when it comes to the valuation of Bacon from the point of view of intellectual history; the fact that the inductive method was unsuitable for transactions in exact scientific researches, is of no consequence because, basically, it hd been nourished by expectations which were abandoned at a later period and, in this way, also resulted in the giving up of this speculatively devised method. In the meantime, however, the methods of natural philosophy proper proceeding there from had been developed; they eliminated pansophic meanings; the world became sober.

It remains Bacon's paramount achievement that he created, in theory, an institution for the realization of his intent which, in the ensuing ages, was destined to become of the greatest importance. Naturally, several forces have interposed before the idea became a reality. It was the merit of Petty, Cowley, Evelyn and of others, to proved its practical feasibility and eventually to have accomplished the constitution of the Royal Society, the prototype of a large number of other European academies. However, it was but Bacon's small fragmentary publication of long ago which devised the plans and made known his intentions to widest circles.

The stimulating and creative effects of the New Atlantis on the organization of science in the 17th century has not been confined to England. The Baconian proposition rooted much deeper. Even contemporary reports, including those originating from the circle of the Royal Society, are aware of it. We find the following remark of Oldenburg : "..... so many of the chief Universities in Christendom have already formed themselves into Philosophical Societies: and have largely contributed their Aydes to advance Lord Bacon's design for the Instauration of the Arts and Sciences." --Transactions of the Royal Society, March 25, 1677, No. 133, p. 815, Preface to the 13year of publications...

Rosicrucian title page to Bacon's De Sapientia Veterum(German 1654)
depicts Francis Bacon as head of the Rosicrucian Society with three officers, or principals, attending him
Christopher Haymann, one of the historiographers of learned societies in those days, also seems to have been aware of it, because he records in his "Short History of the most Prominent Associations of Scholars from the remotest times up to the present day",
"There can be no doubt that this propostion has been the first opportunity and even the reason for the founding of the Royal Society in a learning time. Similarly, I shall not deny that he was perhaps initiative inthe foundation of several more associations, in and without England. But the circumstances which induced Lord Verulam to submit such a proposition..... may also have influenced others, before and after him, to entertain thoughts similar to his ."--Leipzig, 1745, Vol.1, p.20

That which now makes this peculiar little publication so significant and valuable just for Germany, is the fact its basic thoughts found their earliest materialization in our country, as much as ten years prior to the organization of the Royal Society(1662); that is to say, in the first philosophical association of scholars in Germany, the Academia Naturae Curiosorum at Schweinfurt.

To be sure, there had been already associations of the learned in existence prior to this time, in Italy as well as on this side of th Alps, and as the Danuabian Association , founded in 1490 at Ofen(the Budapest of today), later in 1497 at Vienna, by the Emperor Maximilian, through Conrad Celtes, the Franconian humanist, which combined in itself researches in literature, natural science, and mathematics. But its labors were everywhere associated with mystic and pansophic speculations. It should be considered rather as a school of wordly wisdom than as a home of exact research. It ceased its activities soon after Emperor Maximilian's death, amidst the confusion of the Turkish wars and the movements of reformation and counter-revolution.

It is quite obvious, therefore, that there existed a readiness to bring associations together for a common task. Bacon's New Atlantis gave the impetus that called to new life the tendencies growing from these humanistic, platonic-philosophical, pansophistic and anti-scholastic efforts, towards scientific group research. Especially favorable was the circumstance that the Baconian propositions permitted of an appropriate and even practically workable connection on the Continent with some movements, which, naturally, had their origins in quite different considerations.

Bacon's proposals the effect of which extended over to the continent at an early period, having for their aim a fundamental reformation of research methods, to his proposals for an encyclopedical comprehesion of known natural phenomena, as well as to his concept for the erection of an extensive institute for research. It was just his close connection between revolutionary cosmo-conception and anticipations that gave promise of practical results which lent these proposals expansive power. The active commercial relations with England , the lively interest of princely courts in the thousandfold mysterious experiments conducted by naturalists and alchemists, the common defensive front against Rome, the exchange of highly intelligent men conditioned upon political alliances, the close international connections maintained by scientists in the spheres of philosophy and natural science, who, assisted by the Latin language understood everywhere, were not restricted by any national borders-- all these facilitated the spreading of Bacon's intellectual wares.

The Southwestern part of Germany proved especially active in the reception of these ideas, along with the very close and lively intellectual relations existing generally between the Southern part of Germany and England in the 16th and 17th centuries. I recall Theodore Haak, who was one of the founders of the Royal Society; Oldenburg, the Ambassador from Bremen, who, as a German, was one of the first secretaries and later President of the English association of scientists, Weckherlin, Martin Kemp, Johann Herdegen, Hartlib, Comenius, the English Calvinists. The German philological societies kept up an especially vigorous exchange of ideas with England; and among them further the Order of the Pegnitz Shepherds of Nurnberg assumed prominence, from the larger number of its members who journeyed to England. Just because of this, Bacon's effect is especially powerful on the German rococo literature. It's also a fact and must not be lost sight of, that the first complete edition of Bacon's works was published in Frankfurt,1665.

Finally, all these may have contributed to the fact that Bacon's philosophy and his proposals for the organization of the sciences, found an especially favorable intellectual preparedness and enduring support for the materialization of his plans in the Southwest, the most active part of Germany from a cultural point of view.