Here’s the intro to my latest 3QD essay:
I’ve always had a problem with the word ‘nature’. It seems to serve as a label for multiple, mutually inconsistent notions. This in itself is not a reason to dislike a word — we seem to have little problem with most words that have multiple meanings. (Surely “right” as in “right versus wrong”, is easy to separate from “right” as in “right versus left”? Surely it isn’t semantic confusion that causes left-handed people and leftists to be accused of being wrong, and even unnatural?) What seems to make the concept of “naturalness” especially problematic is the way it is used to justify particular situations or courses of action.
So what are the multiple senses of the concept of nature? I think we can discern at least three, which can be best described in terms of dichotomies. We have:
- Nature versus the Supernatural
- Nature versus Nurture
- Nature versus Culture
Let’s examine them one by one, and then see what they imply for ‘human nature’.