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Edurne De Wilde MA

PhD candidate


Idols of the Mind: Modern Variations on a Baconian Theme, 1800-2000

Leiden University
Project: Scholarly Vices: A Longue Durée History
Promotor(es): Prof. Herman Paul
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2019

Edurne De Wilde is a PhD student in Herman Paul’s VICI project ‘Scholarly Vices: A Longue Durée History’. In her sub-project ‘Idols of the Mind: Modern Variations on a Baconian Theme, 1800-2000’, she examines modern interpretations of Francis Bacon’s idols of the mind. Bacon’s idols of the tribe, cave, marketplace and theatre are considered as a fixed set of scholarly vices, which unlike other early modern vices, were recognised as the brainchild of one particular author. By comparing a selection of modern references to Bacon’s idols, the project reflects on the question of how to interpret Bacon’s idols in contexts that go beyond that of their birthplace in the Novum Organum (1620) in time, space and scientific discipline. Considering that modern thinkers, like Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Émile Durkheim, stretched the original meanings of the idols to encompass modern notions such as ‘objectivity’ and ‘scientific bias’, the project tests the hypothesis that in the 19th and 20th century, certain polemical modern thinkers rhetorically utilised Bacon’s idols as commonplaces to expose and condemn what they perceived as poor scholarship. Recast as timeless and universal vices, Bacon’s idols were anything but outdated, but persisted in productive interaction with modern scientific discourses.