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Nature: Its Conceptual Architecture


Louis Caruana

Many philosophers adopt methods that emulate those of the natural sciences. They call such an overall approach naturalism, and consider it indispensable for fruitful philosophical debate in various areas. In spite of this consensus however, little is ever said about how naturalism depends on the underlying idea of nature, which we often endorse unconsciously. If we can determine how naturalism reflects an underlying account of nature, we would be in a better position to distinguish between different kinds of naturalism and to assess the merits of each. This book undertakes a sustained study of the concept of nature to answer this need. It examines in detail how conceptual, historical, and scientific constraints affect the concept of nature in various domains of philosophy, and how, in the opposite sense, these constraints are themselves affected by the concept of nature. In so doing, this book relates the conceptual framework of scientific inquiry back to the lived experience that is proper to everyday self-understanding.
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Chapter 1 – Nature: a short history


Chapter 1 Nature: a short history

The enterprise called the history of ideas is especially fruitful when the unit-idea picked by the historian has served as an important assumption, an unconscious habit of thought, that determined much of what is done within a school of thought, a tradition, or a scientific paradigm. This view has been developed masterfully by Arthur Lovejoy in his book The Great Chain of Being, where he highlights the role of what he calls philosophical semantics. For him, the work of philosophical semantics is one of the important factors in the history of ideas, and involves the study of key-words in view of achieving “a cleaning up of the ambiguities, a listing of their various shades of meaning, and an examination of the way in which confused associations of ideas arising from these ambiguities have influenced the development of doctrine”.1 Ambiguities inherent within such key-words do not constitute a peripheral factor for the historian’s task. On the contrary, Lovejoy was convinced that such ambiguities have a special role, because some shade of meaning may gain currency during one period, and thus become dominant for the thought of that period, while some other shade of meaning of the same key-idea may gain such currency in another period. He adds: “the word ‘nature’, it need hardly be said, is the most extraordinary example of this, and the most pregnant subject for the investigations of philosophical semantics”.2 Taking my cue from such reflections, I will...

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