Of Truth Summary by Francis Bacon
Bacon begins this essay by quoting Pilate who questions what truth is. Bacon says that truth is a belief that affixes the mind and hinders free will in thinking and acting.
The Greek philosophers who questioned the possibilities of human knowledge are no longer there, but there are still some people who question the same. Men undergo various difficulties to learn the truth but once he does so it imposes a restriction on his thought, and he wants to revert to lies.
Bacon says that the love is a corrupt yet natural tendency in human beings. Like the Greek philosopher Lucian, Bacon wonders what makes a man love lies for it does not give delight as it does in poetry or does not allow profit as in business.
Truth is like daylight, but it throws only as much light on the fallacies of the world as a candlelight. Truth is like a pearl which shows best in daylight, but it cannot be like a diamond or carbuncle that can shine in the dark. That means truth is unable to show itself in the face of a lie just as a pearl cannot be seen in the dark.
A mixture of lie with truth adds pleasure. Here Bacon speaks about imagination. If a man hangs on to the absolute truth and does not allow fancy, hopes or even doubt, he will be a melancholy person.
Poetry has often been accused of being false as it is filled with imagination. But it is only a shadow of a lie, a reflection of reality which reflects the ideal. But it is not the lie that passes over the mind but the lie that deeply sinks into the mind that hurts.
Despite man’s efforts and judgements, it is only truth that can truly define itself. The quest for truth, the love of truth and the belief in truth is the only free will of human nature. Bacon compares truth to light and brings in the biblical example of the god’s creation of light.
On the first day God created light and on the sixth day he created man whom he gifted the “light of reason”. Bacon quotes a poet who said, “no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of Truth, and to see the errors and wanderings ….in the vale below.”
Bacon adds that such a man would looks upon the “errors and wanderings” with pity and not with pride. If a man’s mind can “move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth” he will certainly find heaven on earth.
Truth is of utmost importance in civil life and in business. A bit of lie mixed with the truth is like making an alloy of copper and gold or silver. It makes it easier to work with these metals but at the same time makes it impure.
Bacon compares falsehood to a snake crawling on its belly rather than walking on its feet. There is no activity more shameful than being false and treacherous.
In this context Bacon quotes Montaigne who said that a liar is a man who is brave towards God and a coward towards men. Bacon emphasizes on the wickedness of falsehood and treachery by saying that these are the qualities that will be the cause of calling upon the judgement of God upon mankind.