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Science, Technology & Society at Bar-Ilan University

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“Nature”: an Historical, Philosophical and Social Investigation (27850) | Dr. Noah Efron

 The words “nature” and “natural” were, since the time of the Pre-Socratics, usually synonyms for a fixity beyond the scope of human intervention. “He can’t help it,” people would say, “it’s in his nature.” Recently, though, nature has become plastic. The capacity of scientists to intervene in the workings of nature, and to alter them, has increased rapidly, surpassing the predictions of last generation’s scholars. This change matters a great deal. On the notion of autonomous nature rest notions of natural law, natural rights, inalienable rights, of autonomy. It is not coincidence that the great theorists of the liberal tradition -- Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others – began their inquiries by meditating on how humans might behave in a state of nature.   America’s Founding Fathers --- Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Adams – had a particular view of nature and human nature in mind when they came to frame new American political institutions. Adam Smith found that trade relations had a certain economic “nature” as inviolate as the nature described by the Newtonians. On the notion of infrangible nature rest notions of liberty, republicanism, free trade, habeas corpus and much more. On the autonomous and integrous self rest notions of personal responsibility, legal liability, franchise, free speech and much more. In this seminar we will survey the changing notions of nature from early modern times to today.