Friday, March 11, 2022

Summary of the essay "Of Studies"

In this essay Bacon states briefly the aims of study, the effects of reading books on our character, the type of books to be read and the way or manner in which different types of books are to be read. The three main aims of the study of books are first, delight, i.e., studies give us intellectual pleasure; secondly, they serve to decorate the speech of the reader, i.e., he becomes able to speak in a persuasive and charming manner; thirdly, studies also enhance the native or inborn powers of a person. A man with a regular habit of reading books gathers many bits and pieces of knowledge and information from them which vastly improve his natural ability and make him successful in the practical affairs of life. Studies help an individual to marshall or better arrange facts and ideas. He becomes more efficient in handling the affairs of life. Studies also show a person the proper direction in which he should move. That is why the wise men use them, i.e., apply the studies for the improvement of life and existence.

The aim of studying or reading is not to contradict or confute (refute) the opponent, or to accept ideas uncritically or use the material or knowledge thus gained for talking, but to weigh and consider, i.e., to judge the logical value of ideas. A bright idea need not necessarily be true, and an unpleasant one false. The books from which we receive ideas are also not of equal value. The really good books which contain important ideas are to chewed and digested, i.e., read with diligence and attention. The less important books are only to be tasted i.e. read only in parts. Some others are to be read but not curiously. But the really important books are to be read wholly, i.e. from cover to cover and with due diligence and attention.

What are the effects of study or reading? It makes a full man, i.e. the man obtains ideas and information which are not generally present among ordinary men. But mere reading does not suffice. It should go hand in hand with conference, i.e. discussion. debate and argument. But writing makes a man exact; it is through writing that a man can clearly and distinctly express his ideas. A man whose ideas are not clear and distinct cannot state his ideas properly, i.e. in a logical and coherent manner.

As regards the different types of books and their effects on human nature, Bacon says that histories make man wise; poets, i.e., poetical works make men witty or intelligent; a study of books on mathematics make men subtle i.e. endows them with analytical skill; natural philosophy i.e., books on natural sciences like physics, chemistry etc. make men deep i.e. give them insight into the workings of natural phenomena; study of moral or books on ethics makes men grave i.e., they learn to control their lower instincts and behave as per moral principles, i.e. build up their moral character as per the norms dictated by ethics; logic and rhetoric enable man to contend, to argue with the opponents and refute their view-points. All this has been summed up in the Latin sentence: abeunt studia in mores, i.e. studies influence character or nature. Hence it is essential that we should read good books; the bad books will lower our nature. Just as a body may be made fit by appropriate physical exercise, so our mental faculties may be strengthened by study of suitable subject matters. A man whose intelligence wanders i.e., who is not able to follow the strict logical sequence of ideas should study mathematics for here one must proceed carefully, step by step. A knowledge of mathematics, a study of books on mathematics would thus prevent one's mental faculty from going astray. If a man is unable to make or understand subtle differences, let him read the philosophical works of the medieval philosophers who are experts in making subtle distinctions. They are in the language of Bacon "cymini sectores", hair-splitters. If one is not capable of judging all sides of a case before coming to a conclusion, and fails to cite proper precedents to bolster his own case, he should study law books where he will find illustrations regarding how lawyers establish their case before a judge. Thus reading different types of books helps correct the various types of deficiencies in our mental capacities.

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