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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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In much recent work in analytic philosophy, naturalism seems to have become the approach many philosophers swear allegiance to, even though there is no clear consensus yet as to what this allegiance really demands. For many, endorsing naturalism consists in adopting a set of starting points that are indispensable for fruitful work in various areas, with the predominant starting point being the claim that the methods of science are the only dependable ones for philosophy and for any other discipline. The plausibility of this assumption, however, and of others closely associated with it, has recently been questioned.1 The very idea of naturalism, whatever it may mean in detail, depends on the idea of nature, but this latter concept, in spite of being regularly used within many philosophical debates, has not yet received in recent scholarship the philosophical scrutiny it deserves.

This book attempts to answer this need. It starts by acknowledging that there is tension, even signs of inconsistency, within the way many individuals, including philosophers, think about nature. In other words, it concedes that there is not just one concept of nature but many. Although many philosophers have a habitual respect towards all that science has to say about nature, and therefore assume that science can supply the one correct concept of nature, some are nevertheless persuaded that there is more to nature than what these sciences tell us. As to what this “more” might mean, however, there is no clear consensus. So this book...

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