A Structural Topic Model of the Features and the Cultural Origins of Bacon's Ideas

Peter Grajzl (Washington and Lee U.)
Peter Murrell (University of Maryland)

Abstract: We use machine-learning methods to study the features and origins of the ideas of Francis Bacon, a key figure who provided the intellectual roots for a cultural paradigm that spurred modern economic development. We estimate a structural topic model, a state-of-the-art methodology for analysis of text corpora. The estimates uncover sixteen topics prominent in Bacon's opus. Two are key elements of the ideas usually associated with Bacon—inductive epistemology and factseeking. We provide the first quantitative evidence that the genesis of Bacon's epistemology lies in his common-law jurisprudence, a conclusion that has not been prominent in the conventional text-analysis literature. Fact-seeking is more isolated from Bacon's other intellectual pursuits. The utilitarian promise of science and the centralized organization of the scientific quest, embraced by Bacon's followers, were not emphasized by him. Bacon's use of different topics varies notably with intended audience and chosen medium. Our results have direct implications for the interpretation of the determinants of political and economic development in 17th-century England.

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