Francis Bacon's Four Idols

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The Four Idols

The Farnam Street blog article on them is quite good, with excerpts from Bacon's Novum Organum.

Idols of the Tribe. Misleading ideas inherent in the mind of man. Not understanding statistics. Not thinking logically.

Idols of the Cave. Misleading ideas in the mind of an individual due to his temperament, education, etc. Thinking like an economist (“maximize surplus”), or an epidemiologist (“save lives”), or an engineer (“make it strong”) or a modern American. Plato’s Republic’s Cave Allegory.

Idols of the Marketplace. Misleading ideas arising from thinking in terms of words instead of reality. Freedom of Speech, but if you disagree with it, you don’t think of it as Speech. “Essential services” during an epidemic.

Idols of the Theatre. Misleading ideas propounded by learned men and accepted by everyone else without question. The idea that bleeding cures illnesses.

Idols of the Tribe

 Misleading ideas inherent in the mind of man. Not understanding statistics.  Not think

ing logically.

Idols of the Cave

Misleading ideas in the mind of an individual due to his temperament, education, etc. Thinking like an economist (“maximize surplus”), or an epidemiologist (“save lives”), or an engineer (“make it strong”) or a modern American. Plato’s Republic’s Cave Allegory.

Idols of the Marketplace

Misleading ideas arising from thinking in terms of words instead of reality. Freedom of Speech, but if you disagree with it, you don’t think of it as Speech. “Essential services” during an epidemic.


Political philosophy professors have  a lot to learn from law-- in particular, the idea that if you look at specific examples, it really concentrates your thinking and brings out the real issues, piercing through the   cloud of  meaningless jargon that we academics tend to exhale. Actually, I guess we in economics could benefit from the same idea, though our exhalations tend to be mathematical.


Idols of the Theatre

Misleading ideas propounded by learned men and accepted by everyone else without question. The idea that bleeding cures illnesses.