Research Project


Roger Bacon's (ca. 1220–1292) Idea of Progress, Laws of Nature and the Laws of the Stars

Yael Kedar

My thesis is that in the writings of Roger Bacon (ca. 1220-1292) an important link is found between astrology and the "laws of the stars", the concept of laws of nature, and an early version of the idea of progress.
Bacon considered astrology an empirical science, investigating the correspondence between heavenly constellations and events on earth. From this, he claimed, we could deduce about events in future times. There are "fixed rules" binding the constellations of heavens and events on earth, and these can be discovered empirically. The astrologer needs to know the laws of the stars in order to drive away what is harmful and promote what is useful. Individuals, states and regions can be changed for the better, life will be prolonged, and great things will be achieved in morals, the arts and science. This was a straightforward future extrapolation, expressing confidence in the ability of men to promote his condition.
I see a connection between the idea that humans should take control of their fate and the idea that both nature and history are governed by discoverable and predictable laws. The realization that the predictable can be manipulated and made useful is a fundamental discovery. My thesis that laws of nature underpin the modern idea of progress points to deeper roots in medieval time than has been hitherto thought.

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