Keywords

Francis Bacon, technology, progress, Utopia

Subject Area

History/Anthropology/Philosophy

Start Date

2-3-2014 10:45 AM

End Date

2-3-2014 12:15 PM

Description/Abstract

One of the unique Utopian visions put forth in the 17th century was that of Francis Bacon. His New Atlantis portrays a technological Utopia on the fictional island of Bensalem. Although Bensalem’s laws are just and its people generous, Bacon’s emphasis is on how the society is organized with an eye to technological progress. Today, a Baconian society is often thought to be dystopian. Bacon is criticized for neglecting the fact that technology can be used for evil ends and even take on a life of its own, reshaping our world for the worse. Some also criticize Bacon for sounding a battle cry to conquer nature; it is not unusual for these critics to blame him (however indirectly) for everything from nuclear weapons to climate change. In response to these concerns, this paper examines the relationship between virtue and technology in Bacon’s Utopian vision. My aim is to put Bacon into a dialogue with the modern critics of Bacon’s technological optimism and to consider his replies to three recurring objections: that he naively views technology as a morally neutral tool, that he wrongly assumes that technological progress and ethical progress go hand in hand, and that his ambition to conquer nature fails to place sufficient moral limits on the creation and use of technology. I show that Bacon is concerned with the destructive potential of technology but has systematic ethical and metaethical reasons for believing that we will overcome such problems.

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Mar 2nd, 10:45 AM Mar 2nd, 12:15 PM

Why Bacon’s Utopia is not a Dystopia: Technological and Ethical Progress in The New Atlantis

One of the unique Utopian visions put forth in the 17th century was that of Francis Bacon. His New Atlantis portrays a technological Utopia on the fictional island of Bensalem. Although Bensalem’s laws are just and its people generous, Bacon’s emphasis is on how the society is organized with an eye to technological progress. Today, a Baconian society is often thought to be dystopian. Bacon is criticized for neglecting the fact that technology can be used for evil ends and even take on a life of its own, reshaping our world for the worse. Some also criticize Bacon for sounding a battle cry to conquer nature; it is not unusual for these critics to blame him (however indirectly) for everything from nuclear weapons to climate change. In response to these concerns, this paper examines the relationship between virtue and technology in Bacon’s Utopian vision. My aim is to put Bacon into a dialogue with the modern critics of Bacon’s technological optimism and to consider his replies to three recurring objections: that he naively views technology as a morally neutral tool, that he wrongly assumes that technological progress and ethical progress go hand in hand, and that his ambition to conquer nature fails to place sufficient moral limits on the creation and use of technology. I show that Bacon is concerned with the destructive potential of technology but has systematic ethical and metaethical reasons for believing that we will overcome such problems.