I have been reading the short essay "Of Studies" by Sir Francis Bacon. I couldn't understand the meaning of this sentence:

If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen, for they are cymini sectores.

Please do explain.

1 Answer 1


Schoolmen refers to the scholastics, mediæval philosophers such as William of Ockham and Thomas Aquinas. The scholastics dominated European intellectual life in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The method they used to analyze philosophical and theological concepts was dialectical: they examined opposing points of view and reconciled the contradictions through reasoned argument. Scholastic reasoning requires knowing exactly what one is reasoning about, and such exactitude entails fine distinctions. The precision and clarity with which the scholastics define the terms of their arguments can come across as hair-splitting.

Bacon therefore says that someone who is having trouble "distinguishing or finding differences" should study the scholastics, because they are "cymini sectores," literally "splitters of cumin seeds." By seeing how the schoolmen distinguish one term from another, the student can learn the art of differentiating clearly between related concepts.

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