Thursday, November 23, 2011
Enlightenment and Nature: The Ideal and the Exploited
Clicker Q I
In your view, are there limits to growth? By which mean, limits to economic
expansion, pollution, and manipulation of nature?
a) Yes, we will approach them very soon.
b) Yes, but in no finite sense. No worries.
c) No. We will find the solutions (energy, resources, adaptation) to continue to
thrive.> Enlightenment view: We can control nature
d) No. History moves in one direction, and it gets better and better.
Can we trace modern views of relationship between humans and the natural world
to Enlightenment developments?
[Modern view: Belief in limitless economic growth; belief in “mastery” of nature; no
limit to resource extraction; belief in progress; alienation from the “natural”]
o Seeing planet as place of resources = Enlightened idea
o Idea that technology will save us = Enlightenment process
I. Philosophes admired Nature
A. "Infinite new discoveries" in Science and Geography promoted optimism about
1.Van Leeuwenhoek and the microscopic > Discoveries pointed towards nature full of
possibilities; nature = beneficial to humanity; *Voltaire satirizes him in Candide (as Dr. Pangloss);
invented microscope (able to see into nature); astronomical knowledge as telescopes improved
2. The “discovery” of Australia > Europeans excited by array of animals
B. Deism finds "proof" in Providential design: God, the “Great Clockmaker” has
created a world for benefit of humanity > God set universe up for us, up to us to take advantage of it
II. Philosophes sought to control and exploit nature
A. René Descartes' materialism: Nature has no soul > Scientific populariser; our bodies are like
machines (esp. animal bodies); animals have no souls; Cartesian dualism – mind vs. body;
B. Diderot's Encyclopedia promotes technology, emphasizes utility of knowledge >
Technology, techniques; ways to take advantage of natural world
C. Emergence of economic science Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” > When we build damns,
rivers – pushed to do this by “invisible hand”; good because it produces fair/opportunity world poss