Notes on Nature

By: Amanda Apicella

I found his descriptions of the Western World’s different categories of defining nature throughout history to be quite interesting. The way we define “nature” and the basic concept of it has always been fascinating to me as it is one of those terms we tend to take for granted without realizing how abstract and odd it is in that it isn’t clear cut. The different attitudes and approaches towards what “nature” is and humanity’s relationship with it are diverse and vary with different time periods and cultures. Coates appears to explore much of the grey area that surrounds this term/concept as well as critiquing historical and modern attitudes towards it.

I personally found the part where he quoted C.S. Lewis to be quite thought provoking as I personally had never considered this way of looking at it:

“As C.S. Lewis had mused: ‘If ants had a language they would, no doubt, call their anthill an artifact and describe the brick wall in its neighborhood as a natural object. Nature in fact would be for them all that was not ‘ant-made’. Just so, for us, nature is all that is not man-made; the natural state of anything is its state when not modified by man.'”

It highlights how the very concept of nature tends to be based in an arbitrary separation between humans/our influence and the world around us. It’s origin seems to vary between a sense of humans being superior/”above” the world around us (and therefore nature is subject to us/should be conquered) and humans being inherently “wrong” or almost a force of corruption in which nature is considered “pure” and “moral”. This odd balancing act and a culture’s beliefs about humanity’s relationship with nature (whether a part of nature or separate from) is what causes the term nature to have such a ambiguous and continuously changing meaning. Whether a culture/people views itself as separate from “nature” or a part of it seems to drastically affect its treatment of the world around them and animals. It also allows people to pick and choose what forms of “nature” have value and which do not such as certain animals being devalued as to be used for food and treated cruelly but dogs and cats are loved as pets.

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