I have been reading about logical fallacies lately, and I saw the Baconian fallacy listed here (of course on everyone's favorite site, Wikipedia). The description provided reads:

"using pieces of historical evidence without the aid of specific methods, hypotheses, or theories in an attempt to make a general truth about the past. Commits historians 'to the pursuit of an impossible object by an impracticable method.'"

It seems interesting to me, so I tried to find some examples online; unfortunately, I can't find anything at all. I think it's named after Francis Bacon, but I can't even be sure of that.

If it is related to Francis Bacon, I'm guessing it has something to do with his Four Idols (Idols of the Tribe, Idols of the Cave, Idols of the Market Place, and Idols of the Theatre). However, I can't find anything on a fallacy named after him, or anything on a fallacy that resembles its description. Even the information I can find on his Four Idols doesn't make much sense to me. Can anyone provide an example or two with explanations to help me understand this logical fallacy?

As a disclaimer, I am an engineer, not a philosopher: this is about as much philosophy as I have been exposed to since high school (and disregarding random conversations with friends).

Thank you!

  • 1
    Wikipedia took the name from Fischer's Historian's Fallacies, which it linked. On his description, this is simply the naive idea of "deriving" theories from facts "by induction", commonly traced to Bacon, applied to history. He contrasts it to what is called hypothetico-deductive method of modern science. – Conifold Aug 4 at 20:52
  • Interesting. I'd never heard of it, but it does sound like, perusing @Conifold's citation the kind of criticism a natural scientist would make against some strains of less that robust social science or historical analysis. How, as an engineer, would you characterize it? – gonzo Aug 5 at 2:45
  • @gonzo I like that link too (I can't believe I didn't think to investigate the source further). I have to be honest, I don't know if I'm reading the source correctly even. However, it seems to me that he points out that all scientists have an internal bias, and that even the most objective truth found has some source of subjectivity. Experiments when scientists devised an experiment to disprove a theory but ended up proving it (I vaguely remember that maybe Young's double slit experiment and Rutherford's gold foil experiment fit this description?) come to mind in particular. – Publius Aug 5 at 18:06
  • A book that provides a concise history of how traditional epistemology and scientific positivism [d]evolved in the 20th C into scientific post positivisvism and cultural postmodernism/post structuralism (and which movements were warranted and which hyperbolic reactions to the fallibility/corrigibility of science, is John Zammito’s A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-Positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour. (amazon.com/Nice-Derangement-Epistemes-Post-positivism-Science/…) (Main drawback is that he gives pragmatism and Wittgenstein a short shrift.) – gonzo Aug 5 at 18:17

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