Nature is a ubiquitous and powerful word that has been significant for
understanding and endorsing forms of being and relationship throughout Western history. However, nature’s meanings—especially the social-relational significations that it carries—have varied over time, according to a range of contexts and "controlling images." Nature is decidedly historical. Its myriad interpreted forms have increasingly become a topic of analysis.
Since nature is neither self-evident nor monolithic, recently scholars in
the humanities and sciences have labored to describe what nature is, and how its significance does—or should—manifest in the proceedings of human affairs. The result is a matrix of versatile, wiggly interpretations. The meanings of nature and their consequences are informed by variations historical, methodological, and conceptual. A contemporary molecular biologist’s conception of nature, for example, will not necessarily align with—and may even contradict—the notion of nature as explicated in the thirteenth century by Thomas Aquinas. Such embedded diversity suggests that we must continually discern not only what historical circumstances and conceptual frameworks have shaped our understanding, but also how the concept of nature continues to be deployed in the present day—and with what consequences for our thinking, acting, and social existence.
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- Union Seminary Quarterly Review
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- September 10, 2015