Person: Bacon, Roger
Roger Bacon was an English mathematician. His most important mathematical contribution is the application of geometry to optics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Before giving the few details of his early years that are known, we should say a little about the date of birth we have given for Roger.
- If so then perhaps he was born around 1222 but would Bacon claim to have been in study since the age of five?
- Although there is no record of Roger's education before he entered Oxford University it is likely that he would have been taught Latin and arithmetic by the local priest to prepare him for university studies (where all teaching was carried out in Latin).
- Of course we must not think of Bacon's university course in terms of the three or four year university course of today.
- Entering university at the age of thirteen meant that the university was providing both what would be considered today as a secondary and tertiary education, so Bacon would have spent many years of study at Oxford.
- They looked to the young lecturer Bacon, who had become an expert on Aristotle at Oxford where his teachings formed a major part of the course material, to lecture at the University of Paris on Aristotle's ideas.
- He joined the Faculty of Arts in Paris, which was divided into four administrative units, three being French and one, which Bacon joined, being English.
- Bacon's interest in mathematics and natural philosophy, probably aroused by Peregrinus, took over his life in Oxford after he returned there in 1247.
- In De mirabile potestate artis et naturae, which is essentially a letter written around 1250, Bacon described his scientific ideas, in particular his ideas for mechanical devices and some of his optical achievements.
- Bacon visited Paris in 1251 but later left the University of Oxford and entered the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan Friary in Oxford.
- Bacon strongly believed in this teaching by St Augustine and studied all the Greek and Arabic works he could lay his hands on.
- Joining the Franciscans, who had a tradition of scholarship, may have been a move to give Bacon some protection from those opposed to his views.
- Study was a major part of the life of the friars, although Bacon's experimental science would have been a unique form.
- This was unfortunate for Bacon who was very critical of Richard's ideas.
- Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that soon after Richard was appointed, Bacon was forced to end his academic studies at the Oxford friary and was sent to a friary in Paris.
- For about 10 years Bacon had no personal contact with the outside world although he was able to correspond by letter.
- His plea to the Pope to reform the calendar was not listened to and when 300 years later the Church did reform the calendar along the lines suggested by Bacon, he received no credit for his early proposals.
- Bacon was also able to teach mathematics while in the Paris friary, so although it appears that the intention was to prevent him from undertaking research which the Church did not approve, life of a sort was still possible.
- Bacon contacted Cardinal de Foulques in 1264 proposing to write a book on science which would be of benefit of the Church.
- Bacon saw this as his only chance to restart his scientific studies and be free from the Paris friary.
- However, in 1265 Cardinal de Foulques became Pope Clement IV and Bacon now had the support of the Pope.
- He contacted the Pope who replied in a letter written on 22 June 1266 telling Bacon to write his work in secret so that his superiors would not know that he was breaking the rules of his Order.
- This seemed impossible to Bacon, so he approached his superiors showing them the Pope's request.
- By 1267 Bacon had written what looks remarkably similar to a grant proposal that a mathematician or scientist might make today.
- Bacon was aiming to show the Pope that sciences had a rightful role in the university curriculum and were important to the Church.
- This work also gives 42 ° for the maximum altitude of the rainbow, a more accurate value than any previously given and one which Bacon must have discovered by experiment.
- The Opus maius was sent to the Pope by a courier John, who was Bacon's favourite pupil.
- We know that the manuscript reached Rome but Pope Clement IV died before seeing it and Bacon's chances of having his great project come to fruition vanished.
- About this time, however, Bacon was able to leave the friary in Paris and return to England.
- Only parts were ever published, probably most was never written, but again there was some remarkable insights on astronomy and calendar reform which Bacon had formed after making observations.
- Bacon believed that the Earth was a sphere and that one could sail round it.
- Around 1278 Bacon was put in prison in the convent in Ancona in Italy by his fellow Franciscans, the charge being of suspected novelties in his teaching.
- Although we have no explicit evidence that Bacon was among these men, it seems very likely that he was and he must have returned to England as soon as he could.
- From his writings it is clear that Bacon had always argued for what he believed and against those he believed to be wrong.
Born 1214, Ilchester, Somerset, England. Died June 1292, Oxford, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England, Physics
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive