Bacon(1) and the Royal Society

What may be called the Baconian model, with a systematic organised approach to the wresting of secrets from nature, was embodied in the Royal Society at is foundation.

The philosophy from the start was that 'knowledge is power' and the strategic interests of the central State were at the top of the agenda. Anyone who doubts the English imperial role of the early RS and the Baconian model should read the 'plan for Ireland' devised by Sir William Petty, who along with Newton and Boyle was among the founding fathers.

Boyle's father was the Earl of Cork, who implemented the Munster plantation under Elizabeth, in which context Edmund Spenser (the Elizebethan poet, author of the 'Faerie Queene' etc) fell foul of the unruly aboriginals, who rejected the process, burning him out.

Boyle's Irish roots were like the Duke of Wellington's ('being born in a stable does not make one a horse!'). Boyle however has a role in the culture of science in Ireland, in that he is commemorated with a Boyle Medal, issued periodically as a mark of esteem by the Irish scientific establishment, since it was initiated by Joly(3) in 1898. I will return to this, to explain what I think is its significance.

The Baconian model was the pattern for the imperial scientific establishments of France, Prussia, Russia, Austro-Hungary, indeed of all European States. There was in all cases a usually quite explicit Faustian pact with the military establishments, which contributed to the painful way in which European history has evolved.

Mini-Baconian systems on the English model were set up in Scotland and in Ireland (not to my knowledge in Wales). There was the Royal Society of Edinburgh; in Dublin there was the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in 1731 and then the Royal Irish Academy in 1784. These two (consciously Baconian) bodies were at the core of the process of the development of the scientific and technological potential for the existence of the Irish nation. Their ultimate failure to achieve impact on the thinking of the intellectual leadership of the Irish revolution in the 1900s is at the root of the contemporary cultural gap.

This is one of the problems needing to be addressed by Irish historians, as well as historians of science interested in the socio-political dimension. We make a beginning here.

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