University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > The science of wishing: Francis Bacon and the magical optative

The science of wishing: Francis Bacon and the magical optative

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Bacon’s optative, or a wish for presumedly impossible things in the realm of natural magic, is not his best remembered legacy. Few subsequent readers (besides Robert Boyle) retained the notion, and already in the eighteenth century, Bacon’s editor Peter Shaw replaced the strange term ‘optative’ with a then more familiar Baconian wish, the desideratum. Despite their current obscurity, optatives appear in numerous works throughout Bacon’s career and at the very height of his epistemic ambitions. Understanding Bacon’s cunning use of optatives will help offer a new interpretation of his significance as a whole – one that does not consist in empiricism or experiment, but in the study of the non-extant and the pursuit of the impossible.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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