Application of Bacon’s “Idols of the Marketplace” to a modern issue: The Healthcare Reform | March 9, 2010

          The “Idols of the Marketplace” is “formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other… And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.” (WI, pg 583, paragraph 6) Basically, words are given values in a person’s mind, based upon their experience in life and with those words and concepts. Because of the imperfect understanding that we have, when we hear words, they are used based upon the user’s understanding, and we may have a different value for these words and receive it differently. “But words plainly force and overrule the understanding… throw all into confusion and lead men into numberless empty controversies and fancies.” (WI, pg 583, paragraph 6) This is stating that because of the misinterpretation of the meaning of words spoken, it leads to false understanding or confusion; which may lead to arguments and can skew reality and their definition of things. This is the Idol of the marketplace, it is still alive today and I will demonstrate it by using the language of the healthcare bill the arguments being brought up from it.

          “Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” (Sect. 246, H.R. 3200) This is from the healthcare bill and shows that illegal aliens cannot receive tax-credited healthcare.  “Supporters of the bill claim that it would not benefit illegal aliens… But the bill gives no direction on how administrators should determine whether an individual is a qualified recipient or an unqualified illegal alien.”(Centers for Immigration Studies, article on healthcare bill, Aug. 21, 2009) This is something that is very unclear in the healthcare bill. Even though supporters of the bill claim that illegal immigrants are not permitted to receive coverage, the definition for immigrants are not specified and the regulations being set are very loose when it comes to checking if they are illegal aliens or not. Quoted from the senator who yelled “You Lie!” during a hearing, he said: “the Congressional Research Service has indicated that indeed the bills that are before Congress would include illegal aliens.” (Joe Wilson, R, senator) A Political analyst also said: “When you look at the bill, it does go to some lengths to make sure that illegal immigrants do not get the credits for the health care exchange that would allow them to get free care.” (Bill Adair, These conflicting opinions clearly show the Idols of the marketplace at work and alive in this time.

          Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services said when asked about abortion and the healthcare bill that “There is no Federal money paying for abortion.”(David Horowitz’ Newsreal, Jeff Hedgpeth) But “On page 2355 of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate there is provision for direct funding of Community Health Centers without going through the normal process of the annual Health and Human Services appropriation. This would exempt it from the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Federal funds from being spent to provide abortions.”(David Horowitz’ Newsreal, Jeff Hedgpeth) This is clearly the Idols of the Marketplace at work here. Bart Stupak also commented on what the bill provides: “if you go to page 2069-page 2078 you will find in there the federal government will directly subsidize abortions plus… every enrollee has to pay a minimum of 1 dollar per month towards reproductive rights, which includes abortion.”(Bart Stupak in an interview) But proponents of the bill still argued that the bill had no language of abortion. Abortion is another issue debated in Congress, the federal funding of abortion. It is debated whether they is going to be Federal funding on abortion and this is because of the language used in the bill. If there is clear language used in the bill, with words that have a more definite meaning, there would be no reason for debate and the language used is the root of the argument, just as Bacon warns against.

          “Whence it comes to pass that the high and formal discussions of learned men end oftentimes in disputes about words and names” (WI, page 589, paragraph 23) This quote illustrates exactly what is going on in Congress. It is the words and names in the healthcare bill, the overall language that is causing this. Terms used in the bill are very broad, that is one of the reasons why the language is broad. The bill is very long, and had very loose and confusing language, which is the definition of the Idols of the Marketplace and why it is so dangerous. Some terms the architects of the bill used were “Actuarially Sound, Bending the Curve, Bundling, “Cadillac” Health Plans, Community Rating, Comparative-Effectiveness Research, Defensive Medicine, “Doughnut Hole”, Guaranteed Issue, Portability, Rescission, and the list of terms goes on and on. These words and terms that make it more confusing than it has to be is the main cause for the Idols of the Marketplace to be so rampant here. “The idols imposed by words on the understanding are of two kinds… or they are names of things which exist, but yet confused and ill-defined.”(WI, page 589, paragraph 24) The language in the bill is exactly this; they are ill-defined. This is the problem with it, and why it needs to use a much more “defined” language that is understandable and not open to debate. The language is the main problem, and the English language does not lack the vocabulary to create a bill that is more punctilious.

          The Healthcare Reform is a hotly debated issue on what it is exactly doing for healthcare. There are many sides debating it and it is being debated because of its vague language. “The nonpartisan CBO, which provides the official cost numbers on legislative proposals,” (Washington Post article, CBO estimate) The cost estimate is one issue that is hard to resolve. Because the language is so broad, it is hard to get a cost estimate. The CBO who calculates it, can interpret it many ways because of the language. The CBO can exclude or include immigrants or people based on age or health, and if they are included, the question is how much they are covered. These questions can be answered many different ways because of how the bill is presented, and the CBO cannot do its job right without a more detailed bill. One estimate says it will “cost of $829 billion, congressional budget experts said” (MSNBC article, CBO estimate), but another says it will be “at $905 billion.” (The Washington Post article, CBO estimate). That is a big range that shows the uncertainty in what exactly is in the healthcare bill. The Bill can do many things, depending on how it is looked at. This is a point of debate in congress and why it needs to be more definite in its meaning. This is bad because it of its broadness can be perverted of the Bill’s original intention and can be easily turned to a new direction with such vague language.

          “…the Idols of the Marketplace are the most troublesome of all” That is true. Even when reading about “The Idols of the Marketplace”, when reading it, the language in it could be read differently then Bacon meant it. And it was also translated, meaning it may have been altered twofold. The Idols of the Marketplace cause havoc on the understanding of the minds of men. They play on what you know, but come from what the person who uses the words knows. Since we do not have exactly identical understandings, it creates a barrier that separates you from communicating exactly what you want. Each word invokes a concept or physical thing. But to the degree and extent that it is meant to use isn’t always the same, and almost never exactly the same. The healthcare bill and the debate that has erupted from it is a clear demonstration of the Idols. I believe that the Idols are an excellent standard to judge errors in thinking. It can, when understood, a good measure to diagnose these errors. When applied to situations or documents in this case, when the Idols are applied to it, the errors are brought into the light, and can be easily seen. When you look at the Healthcare Reform Bill you see the evident problems that are addressed in situation of immigrants, abortion, and overall vagueness of the bill. The Idols of the Marketplace are showing these errors in the language of the bill. . “The doctrine of Idols is to the interpretation of nature what the doctrine of the refutation of sophisms is to common logic” What Bacon wrote here is true. If someone looks at the world and with everything they analyze with “The Idols” as a filter or glass to look through, they can slow their thought process down and see things much more critically and see error much clearer with “The Idols” as their standard

Works Cited

Feere, Jon. “Does the Health Care Bill Bar Illegal Aliens from Taxpayer Funds? Not Really.” Centers for immigration studies on web21 Aug 2009

Hamby, Peter. Walsh, Deirdre. “Joe Wilson says outburst to Obama speech ‘spontaneous’” CNN on web, 10 Sept 2009,

Adair, Bill. Quoted from “Health Care Bill To Cover Undocumented Immigrants? False” Huffington Post on web, 10 Nov 2009.

Hedgpeth, Jeff. “Is Sebelius Misinformed or Misinforming About the Senate Health Care Bill and Abortion?” David Horowitz’ Newsreal on web, 7 March 2010.

“Abortion Language delays Healthcare Bill.” Bart Stupak, Kathleen Sebelius. Good Morning America, ABC

Montgomery, Lori. “CBO Estimates House Health Bill at $905B or Less” The Washington Post on the web, 16 Oct 2009.

Associated Press. “CBO: Health care bill to cost $829 billion” MSNBC on web, 7 Oct 2009.


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