Francis Bacon's "Perceptive" Instruments

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Jalobeanu, Dana
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Francis Bacon shared with many vitalists a belief in the radiative nature of bodies. Bacon’s bodies emit material effluvia, species and virtues, and various forms of spiritual matter; they exchange heat and cold with the surrounding media, they expand in a “larger sphere,” and they receive (and are modified by) celestial radiations. Meanwhile, Bacon also believed that each of these actions and virtues has a specific range of action, its own “orb of virtue” (Jalobeanu 2016a). Thus, a large part of Bacon’s concrete and abstract physics is concerned with finding experimental strategies for determining the natural limits, borders and orbs of virtue in this radiative universe (Jalobeanu 2016b). In this paper, I reconstruct the preliminary steps of Bacon’s inquiry into these natural limits, and “measures of space,” by devising instruments “subtle enough” to be able to perform such an inquiry. I show that the development of such instruments was made possible by a remarkable conceptual innovation: the operationalization of the traditional natural philosophical concept of “perception.” Bacon’s definition of “perception” in terms of “orb of virtue” vindicated the use of instruments and provided his top-down project of measuring Nature with the means to take off the ground.