There is no unanimity among recent historians about Francis Bacon's theory of matter. Disagreement exists in particular about Bacon's atomist and animistic ideas. My claim is that although Bacon changed his views on atomism repeatedly, he never rejected it completely. I shall reconstruct Bacon's various opinions in chronological order to establish his final evaluation of atomism and his reasons for it. Because Bacon never held an orthodox atomist matter theory identical with Greek atomism, for this paper I will define atomism in the broadest sense, as a corpuscular matter theory that posits final and indivisible particles. Following this semantic delimitation, two successive Baconian opinions may be distinguished: the first took the atomism to constitute an ontological and causative-operational principle; the second deprived the atom of its causative-operational ability, but did not touch its ontological priority. Furthermore, I will investigate the question of the coexistence of atomism and pneumatism in Bacon's theory, a point that has been discussed in the influential interpretations by Kargon and Rees. However, I shall argue that Bacon did not regard these two doctrines as incompatible.
Francis Bacon; Atomism; Pneumatism; Matter theory; Animism; Causality; Void; Alchemy; Motion; Motion of resistance