In place of these straggling efforts of the unassisted human mind, a graduated system of helps was to be supplied, by the use of which the mind, when placed on the right road, would proceed with unerring and mechanical certainty to the invention of new arts and sciences.
Such were to be the peculiar functions of the new method, though it has not definitely appeared what that method was, or to what objects it could be applied. But, before proceeding to unfold his method, Bacon found it necessary to enter in considerable detail upon the general subject of the obstacles to progress, and devoted nearly the whole of the first book of the Organum to the examination of them. This discussion, though strictly speaking extraneous to the scheme, has always been looked upon as a most important part of his philosophy, and his name is perhaps as much associated with the doctrine of Idols (Idola) as with the theory of induction or the classification of the sciences.
The doctrine of the kinds of fallacies or general classes of errors into which the human mind is prone to fall, appears in many of the works written before the Novum Organum, and the treatment of them varies in some respects. The classification in the Organum, however, not only has the author's sanction, but has received the stamp of historical acceptation; and comparison of the earlier notices, though a point of literary interest, has no important philosophic bearing. The Idola (Nov. Org. i. 39) false notions of things, or erroneous ways of looking at nature, are of four kinds: the first two innate, pertaining to the very nature of the mind and not to be eradicated; the third creeping insensibly into men's minds, and hence in a sense innate and inseparable; the fourth imposed from without. The first kind are the Idola Tribus, idols of the tribe, fallacies incident to humanity or the race in general. Of these, the most prominent are - the proneness to suppose in nature greater order and regularity than there actually is; the tendency to support a preconceived opinion by affirmative instances, neglecting all negative or opposed cases; and the tendency to generalize from few observations, or to give reality to mere abstractions, figments of the mind.
Manifold errors also result from the weakness of the senses, which affords scope for mere conjecture; from the influence exercised over the understanding by the will and passions; from the restless desire of the mind to penetrate to the ultimate principles of things; and from the belief that "man is the measure of the universe," whereas, in truth, the world is received by us in a distorted and erroneous manner. The second kind are the Idola Specus, idols of the cave, or errors incident to the peculiar mental or bodily constitution of each individual, for according to the state of the individual's mind is his view of things. Errors of this class are innumerable, because there are numberless varieties of disposition; but some very prominent specimens can be indicated. Such are the tendency to make all things subservient to, or take the colour of some favourite subject, the extreme fondness and reverence either for what is ancient or for what is modern, and excess in noting either differences or resemblances amongst things.
A practical rule for avoiding these is also given: "In general let every student of nature take this as a rule, that whatever his mind seizes and dwells upon with particular satisfaction is to be held in suspicion." The third class are the Idola Fori, idols of the market-place, errors arising from the influence exercised over the mind by mere words. This, according to Bacon, is the most troublesome kind of error, and has been especially fatal in philosophy. For words introduce a fallacious mode of looking at things in two ways: first, there are some words that are really merely names for non-existent things, which are yet supposed to exist simply because they have received a name; secondly, there are names hastily and unskilfully abstracted from a few objects and applied recklessly to all that has the faintest analogy with these objects, thus causing the grossest confusion. The fourth and last class are the Idola Theatri, idols of the theatre, i.e. fallacious modes of thinking resulting from received systems of philosophy and from erroneous methods of demonstration. The criticism of the demonstrations is introduced later in close connexion with Bacon's new method; they are the rival modes of procedure, to which his own is definitely opposed.
The philosophies which are "redargued" are divided into three classes, the sophistical, of which the best example is Aristotle, who, according to Bacon, forces nature into his abstract schemata and thinks to explain by definitions; the empirical, which from few and limited experiments leaps at once to general conclusions; and the superstitious, which corrupts philosophy by the introduction of poetical and theological notions.
Such are the general causes of the errors that infest the human mind; by their exposure the way is cleared for the introduction of the new method. The nature of this method cannot be understood until it is exactly seen to what it is to be applied. What idea had Bacon of science, and how is his method connected with it? Now, the science which was specially and invariably contemplated by him was natural philosophy, the great mother of all the sciences; it was to him the type of scientific knowledge, and its method was the method of all true science. To discover exactly the characteristics and the object of natural philosophy it is necessary to examine the place it holds in the general scheme furnished in the Advancement or De Augmentis. All human knowledge, it is there laid down, may be referred to man's memory or imagination or reason. In the first, the bare facts presented to sense are collected and stored up; the exposition of them is history, which is either natural or civil. In the second, the materials of sense are separated or divided in ways not corresponding to nature but after the mind's own pleasure, and the result is poesy or feigned history.