Past the Pillars of Hercules: Francis Bacon and the Science of Rulemaking

The parallels between Bacon’s career and that of Edward H. Cooper are, of course, obvious. Bacon was one of the great legal minds of his day. Unlike the common-law judges who formed the law by deciding cases, Bacon expressed his greatness in writing brilliant juristic treatises and, as Lord Chancellor, drafting one of the first modern rule systems, the Ordinances in Chancery (1617-1620).4 Indeed, my thesis is that Bacon invented modern, scientific rulemaking by fusing his new theories of inductive, empirical research with the traditions of equitable pleading and is, in fact, the intellectual forbearer of the likes of Charles Clark, Benjamin Kaplan, and Edward Cooper. My intention is to establish this thesis by examining Bacon’s Ordinances and his seminal A Proposition to His Majesty Touching the Compiling and Amendment of the Laws of England (1616).5 These show Bacon’s great debt to Roman jurisprudence and Renaissance critical thinking but also show the unique contribution Bacon has made to modern progressive jurisprudence. This is particularly true as to the forming of law by prospective rules, rather than retroactive case law, and the testing and amendment of such rules in light of Bacon’s revolutionary theories of inductive scientific reasoning and empirical observation. Bacon’s innovations earned him contempt and ferocious critical opposition, both during his life and up to the present day. I will conclude by noting three particular sources of this opposition that remain relevant to scientific, progressive rulemaking. As Mark Twain was thought to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”6