Against Nature (Lorraine Daston)  

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"Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it."--Romanes lecture Evolution and Ethics' (1893) by Thomas Henry Huxley


"The order of natural laws became a secular metaphysics during the Enlightenment, despite its origins in the theology of a completely free divine will that imposed—and in principle also occasionally revoked—its dictates on the entire universe." --Against Nature (2019) by Lorraine Daston


“Just as the climate that the Egyptians have is entirely their own and different from anyone else’s, and their river [the Nile] has a nature quite different from other rivers, so, in fact, the most of what they have made their habits and their customs are the exact opposite of other folks’. Among them the women run the market and shops, while the men, indoors, weave; ... The women piss standing upright, but the men do it squatting.” --Histories (Herodotus)


“If cinnabar were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, if a man changed sometimes into this and sometimes into that animal form, ... my empirical imagination would never find opportunity when representing red color to bring to mind heavy cinnabar.”--Critique of Pure Reason (1781) by Kant


"It is noteworthy that we cannot imagine another suitable form for a rational being than the form of man. Every other form would represent only a symbol of a certain human quality, for example, the serpent as the image of malicious cunning, but it would not represent the rational being itself. Therefore our imagination populates all other planets with nothing but human forms although it is probable that they may be formed very differently because of the diversity of soil which supports and nourishes them and because of the variety of the elements of which they are composed. All other forms which we might give them are caricatures."--Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798) by Immanuel Kant


“Either it is right that we should kill because nature kills; torture because nature tortures; ruin and devastate because nature does the like; or we ought not to consider at all what nature does, but do what it is good to do.” "On Nature" (1874) by J. S. Mill, featured in Three Essays on Religion

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Against Nature (2019) is a book by Lorraine Daston.

Blurb:

A pithy work of philosophical anthropology that explores why humans find moral orders in natural orders.

Why have human beings, in many different cultures and epochs, looked to nature as a source of norms for human behavior? From ancient India and ancient Greece, medieval France and Enlightenment America, up to the latest controversies over gay marriage and cloning, natural orders have been enlisted to illustrate and buttress moral orders. Revolutionaries and reactionaries alike have appealed to nature to shore up their causes. No amount of philosophical argument or political critique deters the persistent and pervasive temptation to conflate the “is” of natural orders with the “ought” of moral orders.

In this short, pithy work of philosophical anthropology, Lorraine Daston asks why we continually seek moral orders in natural orders, despite so much good counsel to the contrary. She outlines three specific forms of natural order in the Western philosophical tradition—specific natures, local natures, and universal natural laws—and describes how each of these three natural orders has been used to define and oppose a distinctive form of the unnatural. She argues that each of these forms of the unnatural triggers equally distinctive emotions: horror, terror, and wonder.

Daston proposes that human reason practiced in human bodies should command the attention of philosophers, who have traditionally yearned for a transcendent reason, valid for all species, all epochs, even all planets.

Table of contents

1 THE PROBLEM: HOW DOES “IS” BECOME “OUGHT”? 1
2 SPECIFIC NATURES 7
3 LOCAL NATURES 15
4 UNIVERSAL NATURAL LAWS 23
5 THE PASSIONS OF THE UNNATURAL 33
6 THE VERY IDEA OF ORDER 45
7 THE PLENITUDE OF ORDERS 55
8 CONCLUSION: SAVING THE PHENOMENA 65

Some illustrations

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