June 11 – Roger Bacon Dies (?)

Posted June 11, 2013

We are not very sure of the dates of births and deaths of people who lived a very long time ago. Most societies did not keep records of such things, except for the kings and queens; even if records were kept, many were on paper and have been destroyed; even the records that lasted long enough for modern scholars to copy them may not provide us with certain birth and death dates. After all, people have not used the same calendar all over the world, for all times, right?

So we are not totally sure that Roger Bacon died on this date in 1294. Heck, we're not even totally sure that he died in 1294!

However, this is Bacon's traditional death-date, and I wanted to talk about him. So let's keep the question mark in mind as we explore Doctor Mirabilis, or “Wonderful Teacher.”

Roger Bacon (AKA Doctor Mirabilis) was an English philosopher. He spent his whole life thinking, studying, teaching, and writing. The teaching occurred at Oxford and the University of Paris, in France. After he became a friar in the Franciscan order, he was no longer allowed to publish books or pamphlets without getting them approved. However, Bacon was a friend of sorts with the Pope, and he was invited to write about philosophy and science and theology—a request that allowed him to get around the Franciscan law.

His protector, Pope Clement, died in 1268, and a decade later Bacon may have been put into prison (or perhaps house arrest). Wherever he was, Bacon continued his studies of mathematics, astronomy (astrology), alchemy, optics, and languages. 

So...why are we talking about Roger Bacon?

You may be wondering what alchemy is, or
was. Well, you might say that it was the proto-
science that developed into the sciences of
chemistry and medicine.

By the way, Bacon is usually credited with
being the first European to describe how to
make gunpowder, which was invented by the
Bacon was one of the thinkers during the Middle Ages who urged that beautiful, simple concepts that philosophers dream up should be, as much as possible, tested. In other words, Bacon was one of the early voices supporting empiricism—the idea that experiments and observations can tell us about reality, about the way things really are, why things are the way they are, and about causes-and-effects.

(Thinkers such as Aristotle and the Muslim scientist Alhazen made even earlier contributions to this philosophy and the scientific method. These two were major inspirations for Bacon's work.)

This insistence on checking ideas against the real world is very important. Without it, any cockamamie idea can be proposed and even believed—and, trust me, plenty of cockamamie ideas have been both proposed and believed. Experiments and observation can help us find out what is really true!

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the premiere of the movie E.T.

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest pages on June holidayshistorical anniversaries in June, and June birthdays.

And here are my Pinterest pages on July holidayshistorical anniversaries in July, and July birthdays.

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