Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Janet Atwill

Committee Members

Robert Stillman, Mary Jo Reiff, Robert Bast


Francis Bacon has long been considered a significant figure in the Scientific Revolution, but debate continues regarding the significance and quality of his contribution. Although Bacon claimed to be developing a natural philosophical movement, he contributed little to methodological or theoretical aspects of the work that would eventually become modern science. Bacon's contributions should be evaluated within the context of Renaissance humanism rather than modern science, to the extent that in arguing for a turn to natural philosophy his aims were more consistent with the broad societal goals of his fellow humanists than the more limited ambitions of those pursuing natural philosophy. Bacon's methods were those of a skilled apologist, thoroughly trained in rhetoric, arguing for the study of nature as the basis for a better society. In arguing for the study of natural philosophy as the foundation for his Great Instauration, Bacon used concepts and commonplaces culled from a range of ancient texts, including schools both earlier and later than Plato and Aristotle. Among the ancient philosophies whose influence on Bacon has been insufficiently studied is Stoicism, which understood the cosmos as the embodiment and working out of reason, often identified as god. Stoicism provided a way for Bacon to rationalize the study of nature as compatible with the dominant Christian theology of the day. This dissertation examines the ways in which Bacon's philosophical project relied on Stoicism, both as a source of rhetorical commonplaces, and as a model for the synthetic and comprehensive philosophical system he hoped to institute. Within the context of civic humanism, Bacon blended the Stoic concept of nature as normative with the Renaissance commonplace of nature as a second divine text to authorize the pursuit of natural philosophy. The wise men of Solomon's House in Bacon's New Atlantis combine aspects of the contemplative Stoic sage with the humanist concept of the prudentia embodied in the vir bonus. I argue that the Royal Society is evidence of the success of Bacon's Great Instauration and that he helped create the space in which such a collegial society committed to the study of nature could develop.

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