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Toward understanding 17th century English culture: A structural topic model of Francis Bacon's ideas

Peter Grajzl () and Peter Murrell ()

Journal of Comparative Economics, 2019, vol. 47, issue 1, 111-135

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 of a cultural paradigm that spurred modern economic development. Bacon's works are the data in an estimation of a structural topic model, a recently developed 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 fact-seeking. The utilitarian promise of science and the centralized organization of the scientific quest, embraced by Bacon's followers, were not emphasized by him. Using strategic communication, Bacon facilitated reception of his scientific methodology, targeted influential groups, and finessed powerful opponents. We provide the first quantitative evidence that the genesis of Bacon's epistemology lies in his experience in the common-law. Combining our findings with accepted arguments in the existing literature, we suggest that the effects of common-law culture can help explain the coincidence of early political and economic development in England.

Keywords: Francis Bacon; Culture; England; Law; Knowledge; Scientific method (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: B31 Z10 C55 N73 K10 P10 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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Working Paper: Toward Understanding 17th Century English Culture: A Structural Topic Model of Francis Bacon's Ideas (2017) Downloads
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Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:47:y:2019:i:1:p:111-135