Roger Bacon (1220-1292)

His nickname was Doctor Mirabilis (Miracle Doctor). The emphasis and merger of linguistics and scientific research is demonstrated in the career of Roger Bacon, an English Franciscan priest whose training at the University of Paris qualified him in both areas of research.  He mastered all of the key texts on optics in Arabic and Latin, including Al-Haytham’s text on the Book of Optics.  It was Bacon’s translations and commentaries that led to Isaac Newton’s interest to read Al-Haytham and to synthesize his own great work on Optics in the 17th century at Cambridge University

It was while he was at the University of Paris that a phase known as First Averroism (c. 1240-48) took place.  The study of Averroes (Ibn Rushd) had become increasingly available and was the rage.  In America, think of the fascination with all things Derrida or Foucault during the 1980s to 2000.  Bacon’s commentary on Latin Averroism provoked a crisis at the University of Paris (Hacket 2015).

The following excerpt from Bacon gives his direct understanding and reliance on the Arabic philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna) for a philosophy that places the individual in relation to nature (Bacon uses the term Universal to describe the natural world) (Hacket 2015).

There are two kinds of nature, universal and particular, Avicenna teaches in the sixth book of [his] Metaphysics.” Bacon adds, “Universal [nature] is the governing force of the universe [and is] diffused among the substances of the heavens [and] throughout all the bodies in the world; it is [that] in which all bodies agree and through which all are maintained at a certain general level of perfection and well being. This universal nature is the corporeal nature that is designated in the second genus, which is [that of] body, and this nature excludes all incompatible things which are abhorrent to the whole universe, such as a vacuum. ([OHI, II], 92 = TTUM, 85–86)

In other words, Bacon, as distinct from the philosophy-theology of Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas in Italy, is moving toward a natural philosophy in which nature or the material world acts on the individual and in which the individual is a part of.  Yet Bacon falls short of stating that all things are materially caused, and instead upholds the relation of the individual to the universal nature of God’s creation, thereby keeping to the theology of the time. For Bacon the soul is in a spiritual union with the body, a distinction that separates him from Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine that the soul is separate from the body.  Bacon’s position in many ways reflects the spiritual body emphasis that was common to the Franciscan communal philosophy.  This set the Franciscans apart from the Dominican Order that Aquinas belonged to. Aquinas rejected Averroism, the influence of the Arab Andalusian philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) who was being read and discussed at the Univeristy of Paris in the middle 1200s when Bacon and Aquinas were there.

Bacon, Roger. Opera Majoris, Pars Quarta, Mathematicae in Divinas Utilitas (Mathematics in the Service of Theology), Herbert M. Howe trans., maintained by the History of Cartography Project.

Hackett, Jeremiah, “Roger Bacon”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Power, Amanda, 2010, “Going among the Infidels: The Mendicant Orders and Louis IX’s First Mediterranean Campaign,” Mediterranean Historical Review, 25(2): 187–202.

Power, Amanda, 2011, “The Remedies for Great Danger: Contemporary Appraisals of Roger Bacon’s Expertise,” in J. Canning, E. King and M. Staub (eds.), Knowledge, Discipline and Power: Essays in Honor of David Luscombe, Leiden: Brill, 63–78.

Power, Amanda, 2012, “The Importance of Greeks in Latin Thought: The Evidence of Roger Bacon,” in R. Gertwagen and E. Jeffreys (eds.), Shipping, Trade and Crusade in the Medieval Mediterranean, London.