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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 7 – Levels in Nature


Chapter 7 Levels in Nature

There may be various ways in which the meaning of terms shapes, and to some extent determines, empirical inquiry, and, in the opposite way, there may be various ways in which empirical inquiry can modify the meaning of terms. In this chapter, I would like to draw some insights from this two-way interaction so as to arrive at a better understanding of the relation between a thing and its various levels of constituent parts. It is widely accepted that, in the course of history, the rise of natural science has resulted in a bifurcated view of nature. We are now faced with a clear divide between the so-called scientific image and the manifest image, with a tension between them. One consequence of this is that the concept of nature, in expressions like “the nature of this thing,” seems to suffer from ambiguity. To Arthur Eddington’s famous question “What is the nature of this table?” there are two answers, as mentioned briefly in chapter two. On the one hand, the table is made up of atoms, with the volume of each being nearly entirely empty space. On the other hand, the table is also an object we can sense as solid, having macro properties like weight, height, temperature, and so on.1 So the quest to arrive at the nature of the table seems to arrive at two correct but different answers. Perhaps surprisingly, human understanding has coped quite well with this bifurcation and sustained...

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