Roger Bacon (c. 1220-1292) and his system of laws of nature: Classification, hierarchy and significance

Yael Kedar, Giora Hon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacon discussed three different types of laws of nature: (1) particular laws governing one element or phenomenon (such as the law of the gravity of water); (2) the laws of the multiplication of species; and, (3) the universal law of nature. Each set of laws has its own explanatory function: (1) the particular laws account for the unique features of individuals and species; (2) the laws of multiplication explain the common features of matter and how individuals affect one another physically; and (3) the law of universal nature regulates these interactions and keep them in balance. Bacon’s laws share common features with early modern conception of laws. For example, they can be restated as if/then sentences and cover future events; some support counterfactuals; and all are endowed with explanatory power and free from space-time limitations. When considered together, they form a system, ordered in hierarchical relations. The different levels of laws cover three aspects of Aristotelian causality: formal, efficient, and final. The law of universal nature is a metaphysical axiom, necessary for upholding the very idea of a nature governed by laws. This indicates that Bacon conceived of nature as orderly and predictable; he presented a conception of a lawful nature and showed an understanding of what it takes to be lawful to a degree that had not been seen before.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-745
Number of pages27
JournalPerspectives on Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Roger Bacon (c. 1220-1292) and his system of laws of nature: Classification, hierarchy and significance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this