The 'nature' of 'Nature'

Although it has thus far proved impossible to describe what is meant by nature to the satisfaction of everybody, it is difficult not to have some idea as to the nature of 'mother nature'. After all, she or it is all the given world including us. Even though we cannot specify what we are even so part of, there is no discounting Nature. The natural world into which we are born to live and die includes water and sand of great variety and extent, animals, fish and other species of life, as well as a wide assortment of trees, materials, grasses and insects. Our guts contain lots of helpful microbes we are hardly aware of.  What is thus likely to be our fate should human beings flog the rest of Nature to death? Science and technologies may urge us to dispense with the irregularities and limitations of Nature in favour of manufactured things better suited to satisfy our needs and likes.

1.  Human dependence on Nature does not ensure that we can depend on it. In ancient times many religions were more interested in our relations to the Gods than the given facts of Nature. Even so, humankind was in no position to ignore its dependence on the vagaries of Nature. The task of agriculture, commerce, industry, invention and science, was to harness and improve upon Nature's plentiful, 'natural resources'. Meanwhile the Gods remained other-worldly. But although Tennyson upheld the belief that love was "creation's final law", he was worldly enough to state that  "nature, red in tooth and claw shrieked against his creed".

2.  Rousseau blamed the greed and conflicts that blighted 'human nature' not on the paucity of Nature, but on mankind's 'unnatural' refusal to acknowledge that "the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody". The "sensitive morality" he proposed argued that Nature was a schooling in how best to live well and in harmony. Although Rousseau's godless deification of Nature turned out to be on the wrong side of modern history, his reasoning had implications for many aspects of human being, including politics and personal conduct.

3.  In the event, industrialism proved incompatible with any 'return to the innocence of nature'. But although her generosity was crucial to the pursuit of wealth, plenty of poets, artists, writers, godly men and gardeners upheld the theme that the beauty of Nature was vital to living well. Keats wrote that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty- that is all Ye know on earth,and all ye need to know".

4.  When subjects of absolute rulers became reclassified as citizens, their claims to take part in public affairs came to be grounded less on tenets of religion, manifest reason, or the demands of creating wealth. Their mainstay rested on moral suppositions imputed to Nature but which however were gainsaid by counter-conceptions of an impersonal Nature utterly indifferent to the 'unnatural' wishes of its most precocious offspring.