The issues considered in this essay reflect the notion of scientific utopia in New Atlantis by Francis Bacon; considered the father of the empirical scientific method, he wrote the “New Atlantis" in 1623. The work expresses his ideals interwoven into the story of an unknown island. In other words, its potential as independent land mastered by science and kept secret by the rest of the world has been expressed. It has also been argued that the prosperity of the Bensalem residents rests on technical progress, because for Bacon the means of eliminating social contradictions is economic prosperity. Consequently, science was a means not an end in itself.
Hence, Atlantis of Plato is emerging again, to give space to the development of other innovative concepts. Indeed, the Bensalem island is connected with the Antiquity, as according to the author Persians, Chaldeans and Arabians frequently visited it. Therefore, its existence was not taken for granted as it is linked to the advanced world civilizations. Bacon (2008) claimed that the island people have succeeded in benefiting from the knowledge and progress of the other civilization without revealing their own knowledge. Furthermore, this “earth paradise” is considered immaculate, so relationships with other nations are regarded as detrimental; on the other hand chance strangers are welcomed (Bacon, 2008).
In this regards, Bacon expresses a fundamental principle, which is an essential for utopia in general. "The aim of our society is to achieve the knowledge about the causes and the secret movements of all things and the extension of the limits of human power over things as much as possible" (Bacon, 2008). Thus, progress has been praised as a major element in human evolution. Unlike the state of the Utopians, utopianism does not consist in the state apparatus, but in the use of new technologies, in the use of the sciences and arts collected by agents sent around the world, so as to achieve prosperity (More, 1996).
"Bacon openly states that he does not seek to lay the foundations of a sect or a doctrine, but of human welfare and power." (Bacon, 2008). The purpose of the utopia is not to give a model to be literally used. Besides, its task is to shed light on the problematic areas of the present and to take the first step towards their solution by pointing them out.
Simply put, in the unfinished novel the New Atlantis, Bacon describes a utopian community of scientists dealing with the collection and analysis of data of all kinds in accordance with the scheme of the third part of the great recovery plan. Thus, the New Atlantis represents a great social and cultural life, situated on the island of Bensalem, located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean – an appealing and desirable place. Although the situation in the New Atlantis reminds of the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, the whole point of Bacon’s book is different; namely in it the prosperity and well-being of the ideal state are a direct result of the efforts focused on research and science. The main point of Bacon is clear: only the smart application of research might bring to the European people the prosperity and happiness which the mythical inhabitants of the island enjoy. In brief, the prosperity of the Bensalem residents rests on technical progress, because for Bacon the means of eliminating social contradictions is economic prosperity (Box, 1989).
Moreover, the management at Bensalem is concentrated in an institution that the author calls the Solomon House - a peculiar Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, the happy life in Bensalem rests on the ability to use technical means, unknown in the rest of the world, some of which later become a reality – phone, telescope, microscope, plane, boat and many more. In particular, in the form of Utopia, the thinker presents a reasonably sound program for the future, as the gossip and fantasies give way to rational, though inexistent innovations; namely, it is the knowledge that changes human life by mastering the nature. Moreover, the specificity that separates the New Atlantis utopia from those of More and Campanella is the leading spot on the futuristic line. The truth is made equal to knowledge and as such is symbolized by light that illuminates the way of the ignorant people. Here, again can be seen the great interrelation between science and religion expressed in the fact that most of the island inhabitants are Christians, placing no doubt on their chastity and values, as every deduction they made is for the sake of God (Box, 1989).
According to Bacon the common task of all sciences is to increase man's "power" over nature. Bacon abruptly condemns those thinkers who are inclined to see in science the path to "a deep and enlightening contemplation of nature," characteristic of antiquity; namely, science is a means, not an end in itself. Its mission is to reveal the causal link of natural phenomena for their use for the benefit of mankind. Francis Bacon belongs to the famous aphorism "Knowledge is Force," in which the practical direction of the new science is expressed. As such that scientific community described in the idea of Salomon House is divided to people making empirical observations and to others constructing scientific theories. Thus, all of them have powerful influence on the ordinary man everyday life. Not only due to the fact that their status is that of a royal, but also because they are the few enlightened people on the island.
Characteristic feature of the New Atlantis of Bacon is the intermingling between science and religion. Within the context of the Salomon House, a form of scientific brotherhood, the knowledge is valued more than any form of religion; for the inhabitants of Bensalem the knowledge is light and every insight its inhabitants have is associated with God’s power. For Bacon, that kind of institution is the most powerful on the island and its representatives are even send periodically on ships to spy out the progress of other nations and bring home their knowledge. Together with the strive for knowledge, the people of Bensalem also need to keep “ an aura of secrecy” as the narrator points out.
Moreover, the secrecy of the scientific utopia and the ability of the island people to see themselves but to remain hidden from the rest of the world is what gives them advantage over others. In fact, the hierarchy is characteristic feature of the Salomon house as the community of scientists is regarded as superior to the rest of the island inhabitants. First, they have no obligation to inform the government of their discoveries; second their status is equal to that of royalty. However, the tolerance of Bensalem people to other religions is relatively low, namely few Jews were accepted amongst them.
Indeed, the Bensalem society is proud with its chastity; namely no brothels exist on the island and the morals are at high level. Knowledge and its promotion is of utmost priority while polygamy is forbidden and marriage is highly valued. In Bacon’s scientific utopia a significant place is given to marriage as a union between man and woman that needs further approval from the parents of the couple; in the contrary case, the children of that marriage are entitled to receive only 1/3 of their parents fortune (Morton, 1952).
The scientific utopia is what has contributed to the gaining of wealth and prosperity in the island of Bensalem; however, this knowledge is preserved for the few chosen and is kept in deep secrecy. Also, knowledge is regarded as acquiring power over nature. Despite the utopian state of the island knowledge as said above is preserved for the few chosen; even in case of significant achievement they are given individual renumerations. In other words, dissimilarities and contrast in rank are considerably explicit in the clothes and jewelry they wear, as well as in the other features of affluence and capability they show. Unfortunately, people in Bensalem are not allowed to take individual decisions as everything is debated and settled via dialogue within the family.
The scientific utopia on the island of Bensalem is what keeps its society together. It also suggests that only the smart application of research might bring to the European people the prosperity and happiness which the mythical inhabitants of the island enjoy even in situation of utopia. In particular, in the form of Utopia, the thinker presents a reasonably sound program for the future, as the gossip and fantasies give way to rational, though inexistent innovations; namely, it is the knowledge that changes human life by mastering the nature.
Thus, while scientific utopia is a mirage, the society of the illuminated people of Bensalem is the foundation of today’s secret societies – having access to immense knowledge, but keeping it secret to themselves and even spying out the progress of the others non-chosen people. Whether this is a matter of desire for supremacy or just a need to protect the rest of the world from the power of that knowledge is a question that still has no answer. The fact is that even today only a small number of people have access to it.
Bacon., F., The New Atlantis, edited by Jerry Weinberger, Arlington Heights, Illinois: Crofts Classics 1980, 2nd ed. 1989.
More, Thomas, Utopia, London, and Rutland, Vermont: Everyman 1994, rpt. 1996.
Box, Ian, The social thought of Francis Bacon, Lewiston, Lampeter, Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press 1989
Morton, A. L., The English Utopia, London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1952.