This essay discusses the problem of error as raised by the Baconian project for natural history. I begin with an account of Bacon’s treatment of the problem, discussing both his celebrated account of the Idols of the mind, and a number of other problems that come up in the construction of natural histories, including the problem of the reliability of the senses, as well as the problem of the reliability of the sources from which the constituents of a natural history are derived. I then consider the version of the Baconian program that is proposed in Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (1667). Bacon, of course, had proposed a collective form of scientific investigation in his New Atlantis (1626), as a way of carrying out a program too vast for a single investigator. But when it is actually realized in the foundation of the Royal Society, as described in Sprat, I argue that the collective organization proposed also addresses some of the key problems relating to error raised in Bacon’s original program, a feature that goes beyond Bacon’s own original proposal.
Keywords: Error, Bacon, Sprat, Royal Society, Baconian Idols, natural history, experiment