Virtue and Vice
Francis Bacon on the Use of Comedic Jest
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is best known as an advocate for human progress and the progenitor of the project that develops into what we understand as modern science. He is deeply concerned with the advancement of human learning and the ways in which knowledge is developed and shared. The success of his project, known as the Instauration, depends on both the serious application of inductive reasoning, and the skillful use of rhetoric to navigate the political world, including the judicious use of jests. Comedic in nature, jests prove to be valuable yet dangerous tools of persuasion. This article examines Bacon’s account of jest, its relationship to wit, and Bacon’s conclusion that while comedy is best understood as a philosophic vice, it may also be used as a political virtue.