From: "Stephen Taylor" <steve- at>

Subject: NATURE and the dialectic

Date: Fri, 1 May 1998

Flora Tristan wrote:

"The dialectic for me can only exist with humans. I can't see it existing without humans--i.e. outside in nature."

This is deep water for me because I see humans as completely within nature anyway. So if the dialectic 'exists with humans' it is already in nature. I then wondered if I was missing Flora's meaning altogether and decided to look up 'nature' in the dictionary. To my surprise not one of its 18 definitions (Collins English Dictionary, 3rd Edition 1991), supported my conception of nature as against that used by Flora. For instance:

1. the fundamental qualities of a person or thing; identity or essential character.

2. (often cap. esp. when personified) the whole system of the existence, arrangement, forces and events of all physical life that are not controlled by man.

3. all natural phenomena and plant life, as distinct from man and his creations.

4. a wild and primitive state untouched by man or civilization.

The other definitions, 5-18, confirm, or are irrelevant to the viewpoint expressed in 2, 3 and 4, which define nature by excluding 'man'. 1 refers to an inner being ('qualities'), but at cost of limiting it to a particular individual or thing.

This would have bowled me if I had not been aware that in reflecting current usage dictionaries also reflect current prejudice, so I looked up 'nature' in Hamlyn's Encyclopedic World Dictionary 1971, where I found:

6. the universe with all its phenomena.

7. the sum total of forces at work throughout the universe.

These coincide with my viewpoint. I concluded that the definitions that cut man OUT of nature are based not on the core meaning, but upon a familiar usage, which philosophy, if it is to be science, must rise above.

Now, the familiar meaning, which also happens to be sexist (humanity is depicted as male), is necessary, in the same way that 0 is necessary to 1, or Ptolemy to Copernicus. However, context conditions conclusion, and it is the dialectic's role to develop the core meaning free of extraneous influence.

In Hamlyn (not in Collins), I also found, '12. Theol. the moral state as unaffected by grace.' This imputes a quantum jump in the understanding, a possible, but not necessarily occurring qualitative change within the state of mind itself.

In Microsoft Bookshelf I found: 1. the material world and its phenomena. 2. the forces and processes that produce and control all the phenomena of the material world: the laws of nature. and eight others, including the theological reference.

Etymology: All sources agreed in taking nature back to natura, the Latin word for birth.

Conclusion: the word 'nature' conceals levels in meaning, on the one hand, familiar, on the other, philosophical. But since all its meanings hark back to birth, we know we are dealing with that which is coming into existence in accordance with an inherent plan and power of origin. The meaning of nature is therefore (a) intrinsic, (b) physical and objective; where physical means, subject to observation, and objective, the testimony of an observer. To paraphrase; it is the world coming into being before our eyes, or (in Hegelian idiom) 'for us'.

This is expressed in Hamlyn's first definition: nature n. 1. the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person or thing by birth or constitution; native or inherent character: --the nature of atomic energy--. Quality (inherent), is to the fore, but as posited (noted or commented), by another (an observer).

However, beyond parturition, birth refers to the origin of anything. We call the birth of an idea in the mind, conception. This, if taken inherently, or in itself, is referred to as creation (creative thought, also in theology, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'). We each create our own world in sense and experience. Nature is on the one hand objective, on the other subjective, the latter, as mind in consciousness is objectified as spirit, itself objectified as 'god'.

We are each of us then, god in our own world of consciousness. Spirit, from Latin, spiritus breath, spirare to breathe, refers to the conscious integrity of the living body, function rather than flesh, behaviour rather than being, motion rather than body, time rather than space. Not quite as simple as that, but in general a duality, always a duality; and in religion (monotheism), a rising above this duality, and in Hegel's dialectic the same reflected in a scientific monism, joining the circle between subject and object, spirit and nature. In physics wave and particle await the touch of the Hegelian wand, which in the universality of contradiction finds its rest in universal self-sameness or non-contradiction.

Steve Taylor 98/04/30

PS This is 'NATURE and the dialectic'; 'Nature and the DIALECTIC' is to follow.