Third Revised Edition
VI. The Origins of the Experimental Essay - 123
VI. The Origins of the Experimental Essay The experimental essay originated in the Early Modern English period as a result of a complex process of scientific evolution which deter- mined the need for a new expository genre to suit the new epistemic approach of 17th-century ‘natural philosophers’. Their need could no longer be satisfied by the traditional essay, as this mainly followed principles and employed techniques of a prevalently literary type. The innovative characteristics of this new text type derived from the great importance attributed to the experimental process in the research pro- grammes of Early Modern English men of science, who – elaborating on Francis Bacon’s intuitions – shared the principle that the progress of knowledge could not be based on the servile observance of tradi- tional theory, but should rely on the observation of natural phenomena and accurate experimental activity. According to Bacon, therefore, the correct way for a scientist to deal with past theory should be to “read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted [...] but to weigh and consider” (quoted in Houghton 1975: 12). The years immediately following Bacon’s teachings witnessed the presence of both philosophical approaches: the deductive and the inductive. Some natural philosophers continued to write their works relying mainly on past authority, usually starting out from the citation of an ancient or medieval philosopher and demonstrating the correct- ness or incorrectness of his views by means of deductive theoretical argumentations. Others, instead, based the evidence of their theoreti- cal claims...
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