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

Mon, 20 Jun 1994 11:21:00 PDT

Benke makes a very nice comment on "natural".

A minor comment or two:

Benke writes:
"also something from one of Rev. Dogeson's (Sp)[Dodgson is the correct
spelling] 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"

Dodgson was referring (if memory serves me correctly) to the fact that
mathematicians DEFINE words to have meaning in an axiomatic system and when
that is done whatever usual meaning associated with the word is suspended;
e.g., the Theory of Groups has nothing whatsoever to do with groups as
ordinarily understood. Since an axiomatic system is a purely mental
construct, it is necessary to either use this device (or to use nonsense
words!) to avoid introduction of properties via the normal meaning of the
word which are not, in fact, part of the axiomatic system. In this context
it is not arrogant, but necessary; outside of defining terms for use in
axiomatic systems. I would agree that it can become arrogant--but it can also
help clarify that the ordinary meanings words have may include meanings that
are not appropriate for the context in question.

Benke goes on to give several ways in which the term "natural" is used.

I see two themes emerge from his comments: (1) a constrast between what
exists by virtue of human action versus what exists without human action and
(2) a usage that serves to legitimize or delegitimize; e.g. a claim such as
"heterosexual behavior is natural, homosexual behavior is unnatural."

The former can be embedded into an etic framework; the latter is emic since
"legitimization" is a (cultural) construct. So we come back to the relevance
of Dodgson's whimsical statement: without making it clear in which sense
"natural" is being used, it can become contentious if person X is using it in
sense 1 and person Y understands it in terms of sense 2.

D. Read