Nov 2019

Rethinking the natural/artificial distinction

IASS, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies - Potsdam

November 8, 2019


University of Turin

Abstract. In common language, we may distinguish at least three main meanings of “nature”, that can all be traced back to Aristotle’s Physics. The first is nature as the essence: the nature of a thing is what that makes that thing what it is. It is in this sense, for instance, that we speak of “human nature”. The second is nature as the natural world, the subject-matter of physics or natural science. The third meaning is nature as contrasted with art, craftwork, or culture. While the first and the second meaning do not necessarily imply a counterposition between human beings and the rest of nature, the traditional way of understanding the third does: something is natural if it is independent of our making or if it is untouched by our activities. However, this counterposition may not be the best framework for conserving nature, which seems to require a more dynamic view of the relation between nature and our species. The question I would like to discuss with the participants of the workshop is twofold: on the one hand, the tenability of the natural-artificial distinction (together with the nature vs human beings distinction) in the light of conservation practices and, in particular, restoration practices; on the other hand, the possible merits of a more dynamic view of the relation between nature and our species.

WORKSHOP “Imagining Future Nature(s)”, IASS – Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V., Berliner Str. 130, 14467 Potsdam