Francis Bacon on potential heat


Sebastian Mateiescu

Abstract. The paper presents an analysis of the concept of potential heat and thus seeks to contribute some conceptual clarifications to Bacon’s theory of matter. The starting hypothesis is that potential heat could be seen at first sight as an example of occult quality, for it has a hidden and non-manifest character which by definition is a specific feature of occult qualities. Yet, the thesis supported in the paper is that potential heat is not a genuine occult quality in Bacon’s philosophy and it should rather be equated with the motion of excitation. Some important notions as occult qualities, primary and secondary properties, the reduction process, and their overall relationship receive some elucidation. An attempt is made to clarify the meaning of the term “potential” characterizing this sort of heat and situate this notion in the general framework of Bacon’s theory of matter. One important consequence of this effort is the emphasis put on drawing a sharp distinction between the ‘potential’ and the ‘actual’ in Bacon’s thought. Thus, the example of potential heat is taken to suggest that Bacon reaches a middle place between the Scholastics’ positive reference to hidden dispositional qualities and the atomist’s emphasis upon the necessity of reducing these properties to their categorical bases. This distinction is then exploited in resolving what are otherwise difficult puzzles in Bacon’s conceptual framework and to further strengthen the role played by Bacon’s cosmogony in his overall philosophy.

Keywords: Bacon’s theory of matter; potential heat; occult qualities; primary-secondary qualities; potential-actual distinction; forms; cosmogony.

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