Re: What's "NATURAL" and what's what?

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Sat, 18 Jun 1994 20:00:45 -0700

>>The term "Natural" for instance would contrast nicely with
>>"technological", and would suggest that "Modern Western European" was
>>"Un-natural", which is reasonably true.
>I cant disagree MORE strongly with this statement. I think the word
>natural is nearly meaningless - everything that happens happens in
>nature, according to the "laws of nature/physics"
>Synthesizing something does not make it "un-natural"
>If a beehive is natural, so is new york city.
>A beaver damming a river for new living space, and food sources is
>identicle to a person daming a river to increase the survivablity of
>hir gene pool. If you are a hypothetical snail darter, the beavers dam
>will kill you as quickly as the hoover dam.
>Technological developmebt is part of the natural development of the
>human species

It seems to me that there are a number of ways to approach this question
(the question of the meaning of 'natural').

The realist (in the classical philosophical sense of the word 'relaist')
would begin by trying to find what is accidental (in the Classical
Philosophical sense) and what is essential about 'natural'. Thus by
considering instances of the natural, in a comparative manner, eliminating
the accidental and preserving the essential, we can distill the essence of
natural. This is a daunting task, which, though I vehemently deny being a
nominalist (the opposite of a realist (same sense as in the previous
parenthesis (Sp?)), I agrree, is probably a fool's errand and even though I
am a fool, this errand promises to take time, which neither you nor I have
to spare (life being as short as it is).

Nominalists would make short work of the problem by maintaining that the
boss is the person and not the label, the subject is not the object (
erudite readers may insert some latin doggerel about Jupiter and the little
bull and also something from one of Rev. Dogeson's (Sp) books), and what
any word means is what I say it means and I will define it in a way which
suits my purposes. This approach seems a bit arrogant to me, taken to its
logical extreme, there is the danger that all the magnicifent work done by
Indoeuropean in the course of its development would be all for naught -
and I haven't even touched on the theological or ontological implications.

There are many, considerably more sophisticated approaches to this. We
need only consider that whole disciplines such as:semantics, hermeneutics,
etc., are devoted to it.

Personally, I would take a pragmatic approach: look in the O.E.D. and other
appropriate references, see what people say they think it means, and then
use a modified nominalist approach, that is, while not forgeting that the
word is a thing I either create or adopt and adapt, the way I do these
things will probably work better, more productively, so to speak, if my
work is informed by what has already been accomplished, or at least, tried.

I suspect that I would come up with something like this:

1. The term 'natural' is used in ordinary conversation as a near sinonym
for 'normal', or 'usual', 'expected'. On the connotative level, however,
there can be an optimistic or pessimistic cast depending on whether the
context allows 'natural' to have a positive value, as in "natural
vitamins", "natural beuty", "natural talent", etc., or negative value as
in, "natural cruelty".

2. Natural, as opposed to cultural or synthetic. Silk, not rayon, bacon
not bacon flavoured soy, etc., not to mention, raw not cooked.

3. Natural as in Natural Philosophy, Natural Science, Law of Nature, etc.,
and free of superstition which would allow the notion of Supernatural to
creep in. In this view, "Natural" covers every category, nothing unnatural
can exist, and if something, nevertheless seems to, we must decide if it is
a mirage by understanding the mechanism of the creation of the mirage, or,
failing that - if we cannot dismiss the phenomenon as a mirage, we must
revise what we thought we knew about nature.
That's SCIENCE, I thought?

Being endowed with human inelligence, (though less of it than many people),
I am quite confident that I can keep the various considerations described
or alluded to above, in mind well enough that I can apply the term usefully
in most contexts. I dream of the day when some one will publish a Rom-disc
desk encyclopaedia and I can afford access to a rom-disc reader equipped
computer, so that I can increase the number of contexts in which my use of
the term will be adequate (in the philosophical sense).

At any rate, I would find it easier to worship at the altar of Natural
Philosophy rather then the idols' which Bacon warned against, if the
invisible deity seemed less rigid.

>@> (*)%(^)%
>@> Tibor Benke / (^)%(#)
>@> Graduate Student (MA program)
>@> Department of Sociology and Anthropology
>@> Simon Fraser University,
>@> Burnaby, B.C., Canada. V5A 1S6 >@>
>@> Nota Bene: The opinions herein expressed are merely my own ! >@> ^^^^^^^^^^^