Domination of Nature

Domination of Nature

William Leiss
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Domination of Nature
    Book Description:

    In Part One Leiss traces the idea of the domination of nature from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Francis Bacon's seminal work provides the pivotal point for this discussion and, through an original interpretation of Bacon's thought, Leiss shows how momentous ambiguities in the idea were incorporated into modern thought. By the beginning of the twentieth century the concept had become firmly identified with scientific and technological progress. This fact defines the task of Part Two. Using important contributions by European sociologists and philosophers, Leiss critically analyses the role of science and technology in the modern world. In the concluding chapter he puts the idea of mastery over nature into historical perspective and explores a new approach, based on the possibilities of the "liberation of nature." Originally published in 1972, The Domination of Nature was part of the first wave of widespread interest in environmental issues. These issues have reemerged in many industrialized countries, reinforced by planetary dynamics such as threats of global warming (or cooling) and ozone depletion. In an extensive new preface Leiss explains why his study is as relevant as ever.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6479-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the 1994 Reprint
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
  4. PART ONE In Pursuit of an Idea:: Historical Perspectives
      (pp. 3-24)

      In Greek mythology the character of Daedalus combines bold ingenuity in craftsmanship with a restless, amoral disposition. Banned from Athens for the murder of his nephew, whose talents had excited his jealousy, he fled to Crete, where he delighted the royal court with his animated dolls. Having incurred King Minos’s displeasure there, he was imprisoned in the Labyrinth, but he was soon free again and with his son Icarus escaped from Crete by fashioning wings of wax and feathers. The reckless Icarus was drowned, but Daedalus continued to mock his adversaries, producing an array of clever devices to celebrate the...

      (pp. 25-44)

      Several versions of the following story are found in Zulu legends. In accordance with the prevailing customs a woman brought her newborn baby to the two-headed talking birds who bestowed names on all children. This child was hideously deformed and the birds, discerning the presence of terrible evil in it, announced in alarm that the child would have to be destroyed at once. The mother rebelled against the judgment and escaped into the jungle, where she remained hiding in a One day the mother noticed that under the young boy’s fixed gaze iron ore began to melt. Out of the...

      (pp. 45-72)

      The vicissitudes of Bacon’s reputation as a thinker are in themselves an index to the changing historical circumstances of the period since his death.¹ In the first flush of excitement over the demonstrated successes of scientific experimentation he was universally praised as the herald of a new order and was christened “the secretary of nature.” During the last half of the seventeenth century in England no philosopher past or present was regarded as his equal, and his fame soon spread to the Continent. The Enlightenment celebrated him as its chief source of inspiration: d’Alembert extolled his “sublime Bacon aimed both...

      (pp. 73-98)

      A fascination with nature marks the intellectual life of seventeenth-century Europe.¹ In popular tracts and learned tomes nature’s praises are sung; the greatest scientists and philosophers vie with litterateurs and outright charlatans in estimating the prodigies of which nature is capable. The age is virtually obsessed with the notion that nature possesses “secrets” of inestimable value, and men insist that new methods of thought are necessary so that the “hunt” for them may be pressed into nature’s hitherto unexplored lairs. Marvels and miracles were said to be locked up there, of such magnitude that once in possession of them men...

  5. PART TWO Science, Technology, and the Domination of Nature
      (pp. 101-124)

      Any critical examination of the idea of mastery over nature must confront the thesis that has shaped the common understanding of this notion for several centuries: the conquest of nature by man is achieved by means of science and technology. Only by carefully appraising this thesis is it possible to show that the full dimensions of what is intended in the human mastery of nature have been obscured because of it, for upon examination the common understanding reveals a host of ambiguities and unclarified premises. Such an operation is necessary in order to clear the way for a discussion of...

      (pp. 125-144)

      In the middle of his intellectual career Max Scheler came under the influence of Edmund Husserl’s philosophy. Despite the subsequent divergence of their interests and approaches, there is an interesting affinity between the writings of Scheler’s that were discussed in the previous chapter and the outstanding work of Husserl's last period,The Crisis of European Sciences.As we have seen, Scheler, in trying to relate a shift in the scientific perspective on nature to broader social changes occurring in the transition from medieval to modern society, relies most heavily on classical European sociology and philosophy of science. In a sense...

      (pp. 145-166)

      In the preceding pages technology has been described as the concrete link between the mastery of nature through scientific knowledge and the enlarged disposition over the resources of the natural environment which supposedly constitutes mastery of nature in the everyday world. Normally the rubric “conquest of nature” is applied to modern science and technology together, simply on account of their manifest interdependence in the research laboratory and industry. When they are considered in isolation, as two related aspects of human activity among many others, the fact of their necessary connection must indeed be recognized if their progress in modern times...

      (pp. 167-198)

      The idea of the domination of nature is both complex and elusive. In conventional usage, however, the phrases “conquest,” “control,” and “domination of nature” are purged of their inherent ambiguities, and their meaning appears to be self-evident. Whether an author uses them with approval or reprobation, the terms themselves usually merit little more than a hurried mention, despite the fact that they are supposed to designate something of great significance. As long as this practice is widely followed, both the notion of the domination of nature and its apparent opposite, the liberation of nature, will continue to mystify social reality...

  6. APPENDIX Technological Rationality: Marcuse and His Critics
    (pp. 199-212)
    (pp. 213-222)
    (pp. 223-232)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 233-242)