That the end and scope of knowledge hath been generally mistaken, and that men were never well advised what it was they sought; being the 9th chapter, whereof a fragment (which is the end of the same chapter) is before.
The Scripture speaking of the worst sort of error saith, Errare fecit cos in invio et non in via. For a man may wander in the way, by rounding up and down. But if men have failed in their very direction and address that error will never by good fortune correct itself. Now it hath fared with men in their contemplations as Seneca saith it fareth with them in their actions, De partibus vitae quisque deliberat, de summa nemo. A course very ordinary with men who receive for the most part their final ends from the inclination of their nature, or from common example and opinion, never questioning or examining them, nor reducing them to any clear certainty; and use only to call themselves to account and deliberation touching the means and second ends, and thereby set themselves in the right way to the wrong place. So likewise upon the natural curiosity and desire to know, they have put themselves in way without foresight or consideration of their journey's end.
For I find that even those that have sought knowledge for itself, and not for benefit or ostentation or any practical enablement in the course of their life, have nevertheless propounded to themselves a wrong mark, namely satisfaction (which men call truth) and not operation. For as in the courts and services of princes and states it is a much easier matter to give satisfaction than to do the business; so in the inquiring of causes and reasons it is much easier to find out such causes as will satisfy the mind of man and quiet objections, than such causes as will direct him and give him light to new experiences and inventions. And this did Celsus note wisely and truly, how that the causes which are in use and whereof the knowledges now received do consist, were in time minors and subsequents to the knowledge of the particulars out of which they were induced and collected; and that it was not the light of those causes which discovered particulars, but only the particulars being first found, men did fall on glossing and discoursing of the causes; which is the reason why the learning that now is hath the curse of barrenness, and is courtesanlike, for pleasure, and not for fruit. Nay to compare it rightly, the strange fiction of the poets of the transformation of Scylla seemeth to be a lively emblem of this philosophy and knowledge; a fair woman upwards in the parts of show, but when you come to the parts of use and generation, Barking Monsters; for no better are the endless distorted questions, which ever have been, and of necessity must be, the end and womb of such knowledge.
But yet nevertheless here I may be mistaken, by reason of some which have much in their pen the referring sciences to action and the use of man, which mean quite another matter than I do. For they mean a contriving of directions and precepts for readiness of practice, which I discommend not, so it be not occasion that some quantity of the science be lost; for else it will be such a piece of husbandry as to put away a manor lying somewhat scattered, to buy in a close that lieth handsomely about a dwelling. But my intention contrariwise is to increase and multiply the revenues and possessions of man, and not to trim up only or order with conveniency the grounds whereof he is already stated. Wherefore the better to make myself understood that I mean nothing less than words, and directly to demonstrate the point which we are now upon, that is, what is the true end, scope, or office of knowledge, which I have set down to consist not in any plausible, delectable, reverend, or admired discourse, or any satisfactory arguments, but in effecting and working, and in discovery of particulars not revealed before for the better endowment and help of man's life; I have thought good to make as it were a Kalendar or Inventory of the wealth, furniture, or means of man according to his present estate, as far as it is known; which I do not to shew any universality of sense or knowledge, and much less to make a satire of reprehension in respect of wants and errors, but partly because cogitations new had need of some grossness and inculcation to make them perceived; and chiefly to the end that for the time to come (upon the account and state now made and cast up) it may appear what increase this new manner of use and administration of the stock (if it be once planted) shall bring with it hereafter; and for the time present (in case I should be prevented by death to propound and reveal this new light as I purpose) yet I may at the least give some awaking note both of the wants in man's present condition and the nature of the supplies to be wished; though for mine own part neither do I much build upon my present anticipations, neither do I think ourselves yet learned or wise enough to wish reasonably: for as it asks some knowledge to demand a question not impertinent, so it asketh some sense to make a wish not absurd.
[@ Works III, 231-4]