Of Truth by Francis Bacon Line by Line explanationHere is a complete line by line explanation of "Of Truth", an essay by Sir Francis Bacon.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 1-3 Explanation
1. "What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. 2. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free–will in thinking, as well as in acting. 3. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients.
In these lines, the author discusses the concept of truth and human attitudes toward it.
1. These lines reference Pontius Pilate, a historical figure who questioned the concept of truth during the trial of Jesus Christ. Pilate's question is somewhat sarcastic, implying that he doesn't expect a straightforward answer and doesn't wait for one either.
2. The author suggests that there are people who enjoy intellectual uncertainty and avoid committing to a particular belief. These individuals find it restrictive to settle on a single perspective and prefer to maintain a sense of intellectual freedom. This inclination applies not only to their thoughts but also to their actions.
3. While the particular groups of philosophers who held such views might have disappeared, the author contends that there are still people with similar tendencies. These contemporary thinkers are comparable to their ancient counterparts in terms of mindset, even though they might not be as influential or profound.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 4-5 Explanation
4. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men’s thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself. 5. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie’s sake.
In this passage, the author explores the reasons behind humanity's inclination towards lies and falsehood.
4. The author points out that the attraction towards lies is not solely a result of the challenges involved in discovering the truth, or the fact that accepting the truth can be mentally burdensome. Instead, the fondness for falsehood is influenced by a natural but corrupted inclination to embrace lies.
5. The author mentions a philosopher from the later stages of ancient Greece who attempted to analyze this phenomenon. This philosopher was puzzled by the motivation behind people's affection for lies. This is perplexing because lies don't necessarily offer the pleasure that art (such as poetry) provides, nor do they always lead to tangible benefits like those sought by merchants. The essence of this affection seems to lie in the falsehood itself.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 6-8 Explanation
6. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day–light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle–lights. 7. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. 8. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?
In these lines, the author delves into the complexity of truth and its relationship with human perception and emotions.
6. The author acknowledges a certain complexity in truth. Truth, when revealed, is like bright daylight that may not reveal the intricacies, deceptions, and elaborate displays of the world as delicately as artificial candlelight does. In other words, the raw truth might not always present things in the most appealing or refined manner.
7. Truth might have value akin to a precious pearl, shining best when illuminated by the clarity of day. However, it doesn't attain the value of a diamond or carbuncle (a deep-red gem) that shines brilliantly when exposed to various lights. The analogy suggests that the multifaceted nature of truth is more akin to the dazzling qualities of these gems.
8. The author asserts that there's a certain appeal in mixing falsehood with truth. This blend can evoke pleasure, likely because it makes the truth more palatable or entertaining. The author questions whether anyone would doubt that if people were stripped of their vain opinions, unrealistic hopes, mistaken valuations, and fanciful imaginations, many would be left with minds diminished in joy, filled with sadness, and displeasing to themselves.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 9-11 Explanation
9. One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum doemonum, because it filleth the imagination; and yet, it is but with the shadow of a lie. 10. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. 11. But, howsoever these things are thus in men’s depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love–making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.
In these lines, the author discusses the perception of poetry and its relationship with truth, while emphasizing the significance of truth itself.
9. The author refers to a figure from the past (referred to as "one of the fathers") who harshly labeled poetry as "vinum doemonum," meaning "the wine of demons." This criticism stems from the belief that poetry stimulates the imagination, although it's based on illusions or "the shadow of a lie."
10. The author distinguishes between passing falsehoods and enduring ones. It's not the superficial lies that cause harm, but rather the lies that take root in the mind and establish themselves. This reiterates the idea mentioned earlier, emphasizing the impact of lies that settle and persist.
11. Regardless of the skewed judgments and emotions that humans might have, the author asserts that truth, being its own judge, reveals that the pursuit of truth (inquiry), the understanding of truth (knowledge), and the acceptance of truth (belief) constitute the highest good for human nature. This passage emphasizes the intrinsic value of truth in human existence.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 12-13 Explanation
12. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last, was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. 13. First he breathed light, upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light, into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light, into the face of his chosen.
In these lines, the author reflects on the order in which different forms of illumination or understanding were created by God.
12. The author observes a progression in the order of creation, as understood through the lens of light and illumination. The first form of light that God created was the ability to perceive through the senses. The last to be created was the light of reason or intellectual understanding. Since then, God's ongoing creative or transformative act is to bring about the enlightenment of his Spirit.
13. The author metaphorically describes how God's creation unfolded. Firstly, God imparted a form of light to the formless matter or chaos in the initial act of creation. Next, God bestowed the light of understanding upon humans, enabling them to reason and comprehend. Continuously, God continues to infuse divine light into those whom he chooses, symbolizing ongoing spiritual insight and revelation.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 14-15 Explanation
14. The poet, that beautified the sect, that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. 15. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.
In these lines, the author compares the pleasures of observation with the ultimate satisfaction derived from the pursuit and understanding of truth.
14. The author mentions a poet who praised a particular philosophical or intellectual perspective that might have been considered less important than others. This poet effectively conveys that there is pleasure in observing ships being tossed by the sea while standing on the shore, or witnessing a battle and its events from the window of a castle. However, the greatest pleasure is attained by standing on the advantageous position of truth—a metaphorical hill that's not easily reached—enabling one to see the errors, confusions, obscurities, and tumults in the world below. This perspective should be accompanied by compassion and humility, rather than arrogance or pride.
15. The author concludes by expressing that it's like experiencing heaven on Earth when a person's mind is guided by compassion, takes solace in providence (the idea of divine guidance or fate), and revolves around the principles of truth. This state of mind, marked by empathy, trust in fate, and commitment to truth, is likened to an ideal existence.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 16-17 Explanation
16. To pass from theological, and philosophical truth, to the truth of civil business; it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear, and round dealing, is the honor of man’s nature; and that mixture of falsehoods, is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. 17. For these winding, and crooked courses, are the goings of the serpent; which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice, that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious.
In these lines, the author shifts the focus from abstract truths to the importance of honesty and integrity in practical and social matters.
16. The author transitions from discussing abstract truths to practical truths in the realm of social interactions. Even those who don't practice honesty can recognize that straightforward and honest dealings are integral to human nature's honor. On the other hand, mixing falsehoods with truth is akin to mixing impurities with precious metals like gold and silver. This may improve the practicality of the material, but it diminishes its value.
17. The author compares dishonesty to the behavior of a serpent that moves in winding and devious paths, crawling on its belly rather than walking on feet. This metaphor emphasizes the sneaky and dishonorable nature of deceit. The author contends that there is no vice that brings as much disgrace to a person as being discovered to be false and untrustworthy.
Of Truth, Francis Bacon, Lines 18-19 Explanation
18. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. 19. Surely the wickedness of falsehood, and breach of faith, cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal, to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men; it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.
In these lines, the author examines the disgrace associated with lying and highlights its ethical implications.
18. The author cites Montaigne, a philosopher, who pondered why lying carries such a strong negative connotation. Montaigne cleverly suggests that when one says someone is lying, it's akin to saying that the person is courageous in defying God but cowardly when facing fellow humans. This perspective underscores that a lie confronts the divine and retreats from human judgment.
19. The author asserts that the enormity of falsehood and breaking promises cannot be expressed more intensely than when it is seen as the ultimate signal to summon divine judgment upon humanity. This act of falsehood is so grave that it's believed to be the call that brings about God's judgment. The author refers to a prophecy that anticipates a scarcity of faith on Earth when Christ returns, underscoring the seriousness of the issue of trust and honesty.
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