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Does the word “natural” mean anything?
Posted: 18 June 2007 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Or put another way, can anything that exists ever really be called unnatural?

Discuss.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Whatever was deliberately or accidentally created by men (by men only!), we call unnatural. It is something that nature has never thought of.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Sounds a bit anthropocentric to me.  Why can’t we apply the same logic to termites with their mounds or birds with their nests or even other hominids with their crude stone tools or amusing <sic> bumper stickers?

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, it sounds anthropocentric, but not in a negative way. As far as we know we are the only animals “who know that they know”. Indeed, what we call unnatural (plastic, for example) is not any different from a beaver building a damn. But that’s what we do. We like to feel special. Can a beaver “murder” another beaver? If you answer “yes”, then the beaver’s damn is as unnatural as our plastics.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The word means lots of different things to different people. Some of those definitions make logical sense (“things not deliberately constructed by humans,” for example, which seems to be roughly what George means by it) and some don’t (“healthy, safe, non-toxic, etc” for example). Whether any particular definition of the word is useful is a different question. I would say it’s useful to be able to make a distinction such as “natural” vs “manmade,” though one has to be careful about reading into the distinction significance that isn’t there (as the “natural” food people often do, for example). Intestinal parasites are natural by this definition and anti-parasitic drugs are not, but I prefer the latter thank you. :grin:

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks Brennen, and sorry to keep posting.
I think what I’m getting at is, why just man made? Why not other living things.  If it’s natural for a termite colony to band together a build an elaborate construction because it’s in a termite’s nature to do so.  Why would it be unnatural for me and a few guys to band together and build a chemical factory to make a bunch of stuff to put in your soda?  After all, isn’t that in our nature?  And aren’t we biotic organisms?

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Posted: 18 June 2007 03:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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So can a termite “murder” another termite, Narwhol?

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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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That gets into the definition of the word “murder” as opposed to kill.  I’d say it’s natural for me to have a system of law and a social order.  After, all I think all I think that any anarchy in human society will always to deteriorate into a democracy eventually.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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See my next post. (Posted twice by mistake and don’t know how to delete it.)

[ Edited: 18 June 2007 04:46 PM by George ]
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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 18 June 2007 04:43 PM
narwhol - 18 June 2007 04:06 PM

That gets into the definition of the word “murder” as opposed to kill.

Right. We “murder” (as opposed to “kill”) when we plan it. We call plastic unnatural because we planed to produce it. Termites, birds or beavers build and kill on instinct. They don’t plan it (or at least they are not conscious of it), hence we call their actions natural.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s not in their nature to plan things.  We’re a bit smarter of course so, naturally, our actions are going to be a bit more planned, surely.  Either way, I’ll let some other people try and argue the point, since I’m never going to get an answer I’m satisfied with if I keep answering everything myself. Thanks for your contributions so far though, they’ve certainly got me thinking.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 07:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Narwhol,

I would agree that it is “natural” for us to do what we do because it is, as you say, “in our nature.” If by “natural” you mean “according to one’s nature,” then of course anything done by anyone or anything is “natural.” How could we do soemthing not in our nature? And this is one possible definition for natural. However, another common usage of the word is that which I gave above, and whether this is right or wrong in a grand philosophical sense, if that’s what people mean by the word then it means something. I think the trouble here is the wonderful flexibility of the language and the shifting meanings of words. I would argue that the simple definition of “not manmade” is easy enough to use and makes sense, so arbitrary or not it doesn’t bug me. The meaning you seem to prefer, “according to one’s nature,” is also legitimate, but it raises more complicated philosophical questions because, as I said, what could one do that it is not in one’s nature to do? The biggest problem with the word, in my opinion, is when people assume what is natural is what is right morally and then try to argue for their particular moral stance as “natural law.” or some such. Nonsense, in my opinion!

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Posted: 18 June 2007 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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narwhol - 18 June 2007 02:27 PM

Or put another way, can anything that exists ever really be called unnatural?

Discuss.

Some articles on this:

1. Appeal to Nature logical fallacy: http://fallacyfiles.org/adnature.html
2. The Myth of Natural http://theness.com/articles.asp?id=8

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Posted: 19 June 2007 02:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I have a simple take on this.
Everything I perceive and every thought I have is part of a natural process.
Therefore anything so called unnatural or supernatural is either natural or it is beyond my perception.

When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.
Humpty Dumpty

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Posted: 19 June 2007 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I move that Mckenzie’s idea on the Natural Law is sensible (and pretty much a given) and that it is a pity that “natural” is so often used by advertisers to imply (by omission) therefore somehow good for you.

And thanks for those links - I thought when I posted this that I was the only person in the world who had a problem with the word natural and it’s good to see that there is some debate in other quarters too.

[ Edited: 19 June 2007 03:58 PM by narwhol ]
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Posted: 21 July 2007 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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“Natural” as opposed to “supernatural” does not have too much meaning. But “natural” could be used as a simple synonim for “existing”, and thus have meaning.
The more relevant issue is whether “supernatural” has any meaning. Though, if we say it doesn’t have meaning, what Does it have? Certainly it is a word which has lots of impact on many people.

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