Tue 12 Nov 2019 08:46:35 PM -03


  • Bohm's process physics.
  • Ilya Prigogine new thermodynamics.


Between the sixteenth andseventeenth cerfturies the image of an or-
ganic cosmos with a living female earth at its ceriter gave way to a
mechanistic world view in which nature was reconstructed as dead and
passive, to be dominated and controlled by hufuans. The Death efNature
deals with the economic, cultural, and scientific changes through which
this vast transformation came about. In seeking to understand how people
conceptualized nature in the Scientific Revolution, I am asking not about
unchanging essences, but about connections between social change and
changing constructions of nattlre". Similarly. when women today attempt
to change society's domination of nature, 1:\1~¥.,~e acting to overturn
moder_n constructions of nature and women as culturally passive and


Today's feminist and ecological consciousness can be used to examine the
historical interconnections between women and nature that devel-
oped as the modern scientific and economic world took form in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries-a transformation that shaped
and pervades today's mainstream values and perceptions.
Feminist history in the broadest sense requires that we look at


My intent is instead to examine the
values associated with the images of women and nature as they re-
late to the formation of our modern world and their implications for
'our lives today.

In investigating the roots of our current environmental dilemma
and its connections to science, technology, and the economy, we
must reexamine the formation of a world view and a science that,
by reconceptualizing reality as a machine rather than a living or-
ganism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women. The
contributions of such founding "fathers" of modern science as
Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes,
and Isaac Newton must be reevaluated. The fate of other options,
alternative philosophies, and social groups shaped by the organic
world view and resistant to the growing exploitative mentality needs
reappraisal. To understand why one road rather than the other was
taken requires a broad synthesis of both the natural and cultural
environments of Western society at the historical turning point.
This book elaborates an ecological perspective that includes both


Nature, art, organic and mechanical:

A distinction was commonly made
between natura naturans, or nature creating, and natura naturata,
the natural creation.

Nature was contrasted with art (techne) and with artificially cre-
ated things. It was personified as a female-being, e.g., Dame Na-
ture; she was alternately a prudent lady, an empress, a mother, etc.
The course of nature and the laws of nature were the actualization
of her force. The state of nature was the state of mankind prior to
social organization and prior to the state of grace. Nature spirits,
nature deities, virgin nymphs, and elementals were thought to re-
side in or be associated with natural objects.

In both Western and non-Western cultures, nature was tradition-
ally feminine.


In the early modern period, the term organic usually referred to
the bodily organs, structures, and organization of living beings,
while organicism was the doctrine that organic structure was the
result of an inherent, adaptive property in matter. The word organi-
cal, however, was also sometimes used to refer to a machine or an
instrument. Thus a clock was sometimes called an "organical
body," while som~ machines were said to operate by organical,
rather than mechanical, action if the touch of a person was in-

Mechanical referred to the machine and tool trades; the manual
operations of the handicrafts; inanimate machines that lacked spon-
taneity, volition, and thought; and the mechanical sciences. 1

Nature that nurtures and thats also uncontrollable, replaced by "the machine"

the organic theory was the identification of nature, especially the
earth, with a nurturing mother: a kindly beneficent female who pro-
vided for the needs of mankind in an ordered, planned universe. But
another opposing image of nature as female was also prevalent:
wild and uncontrollable nature that could render violence, storms,
droughts, and general chaos. Both were identified with the female
sex and were projections of human perceptions onto the external
world. The metaphor of the earth as a nurturing mother was gradu-
ally to vanish as a dominant image as the Scientific Revolution pro-
ceeded to mechanize and to rationalize the world view. The second
image, nature as disorder, called forth an important modern idea,
that of power over nature. Two new ideas, those of mechanism and
of the domination and mastery of nature, became core concepts of
the modern world. An organically oriented mentality in which fe-
male principles played an important role was undermined and re-
placed by a mechanically oriented mentality that either eliminated
or used female principles in an exploitative manner. As Western
culture became increasingly mechanized in the 1600s, the female
earth and virgin earth spirit were subdued by the machine. 1

Mining and the female body

The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing
mother had served as a cultural constraint restricting the actions of
human beings. One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her en-
trails for gold or mutilate her body, although commercial mining
would soon require that. As long as the earth was considered to be
alive and sensitive, it could be considered a breach of human ethical
behavior to carry out destructive acts against it. For most tradition-
al cultures, minerals and metals ripened in the uterus of the Earth
Mother, mines were compared to her vagina, and metallurgy was
the human hastening of the birth of the living metal in the artificial
womb of the furnace-an abortion of the metal's natural growth
cycle before its time. Miners offered propitiation to the deities of
the soil and subterranean world, performed ceremonial sacrifices,
· and observed strict cleanliness, sexual abstinence, and fasting be-
fore violating the sacredness of the living earth by sinking a mine.
Smiths assumed an awesome responsibility in precipitating the met-
al's birth through smeltin,.g, fusing, and beating it with hammer and
anvil; they were often accorded the status of shaman in tribal rit-
uals and their tools were thought to hold special powers.

Is there a relation between torture (basanos), extraction of "truth" and mining gold out of a mine? See discussions both on "The Counterrevolution" and "Torture and Truth".

Hidden norms: controlling images

Controlling images operate as ethical restraints or as ethical sanc-
tions-as subtle "oughts" or "ought-nots." Thus as the descriptive
metaphors and images of nature change, a behavioral restraint can
be changed into a sanction. Such a change in the image and de'-
scription of nature was occurring during the course of the Scientific

It is important to recognize the normative import of descriptive
statements about nature. Contemporary philosophers of language
have critically reassessed the earlier positivist distinction between
the "is" of science and the "ought" of society, arguing that descrip-
tions and norms are not opposed to one another by linguistic sepa-
ration into separate "is" and "ought" statements, but are contained
within each other. Descriptive statements about the world can pre-
suppose the normative; they are then ethic-laden.


The writer
or culture may not be conscious of the ethical import yet may act in
accordance with its dictates. The hidden norms may become con-
scious or explicit when an alternative or contradiction presents it-
self. Because language contains a culture within itself, when lan-
guage changes, a culture is also changing in important way~~ By
examining changes in descriptions of nature, we can then perceive
something of the changes in cultural values. To be aware of the in-.

Renaissance: hierarchical order

The Renaissance view of nature and society was based on the or-
ganic analogy between the human body, or microcosm, and the
larger world, or macrocosm.


But while the pastoral tradition symbolized nature as a benevo-
lent female, it contained the implication that nature when plowed
and cultivated could be used as a commodity and manipulated as a
resource. Nature, tamed and subdued, could be transformed into a
garden to provide both material and spiritual food to enhance the
comfort and soothe the anxieties of men distraught by the demands
of the urban world and the stresses of the marketplace. It depended
on a masculine perception of nature as a mother and bride whose
primary function was to comfort; nurture, and provide for the well-
being of the male. In pastoral imagery, both nature and women are
subordinate and essentially passive. They nurture but do not control
or exhibit disruptive passion. The pastoral mode, although it viewed
nature as benevolent, was a model created as an antidote to the
pressures of urbanization and mechanization. It represented a ful-
fillment of human needs for nurture, but by conceiving of nature as
passive, it nevertheless allowed for the possibility of its use and ma-
nipulation. Unlike the dialectical image of nature as the active uni-
ty of opposites in tension, the Arcadian image rendered nature pas-
sive and manageable.


An allegory (1160) by Alain of Lille, of the School of Chartres,
portrays Natura, God's powerful but humble servant, as stricken
with grief at the failure of man (in contrast to other species) to
obey her laws. Owing to faulty supervision by Venus, human beings
engage in adulterous sensual love. In aggressively penetrating the
secrets of heaven, they tear Natura's undergarments, exposing her
to the view of the vulgar. She complains that "by the unlawful as-
saults of man alone the garments of my modesty suffer disgrace
and division."


Such basic attitudes
toward ·male-female roles in biological generation where the female
and the earth are both passive receptors could easily become sanc-
tions for exploitation as the organic context was transformed by the
rise of commercial capitalism.


The macrocosm theory, as we have seen, likened the cosmos to
the human body, soul, and spirit with male and female reproductive
components. Similarly, the geocosm theory compared the earth to
the living human body, with breath, blood, sweat, and elimination


The earth's springs were akin to the human blood system; its oth-
er various fluids were likened to the mucus, saliva, sweat, and other
forins of lubrication in the human body, the earth being organized
"'. .. much after the plan of our bodies, in which there are both
veins and arteries, the former blood vessels, the latter air vessels ....
So exactly alike is the resemblance to our bodies in nature's forma-
tion of the earth, that our ancestors have spoken of veins [springs]
of water." Just as the human body contained blood, marrow, mu-
cus, saliva, tears, and lubricating fluids, so in the earth there were
various fluids. Liquids that turned hard became metals, such as
gold and silver; other fluids turned into stones, bitumens, and veins
of sulfur. Like the human body, the earth gave forth sweat: "There
is often a gathering of thin, scattered moisture like dew, which from
many points flows into one spot. The dowsers call it sweat, because
a kind of drop is either squeezed out by the pressure of the ground
or raised by the heat."

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) enlarged the Greek analogy be-
tween the waters of the earth and the ebb and flow of human blood
through the veins and heart


A widely held alchemical belief was the growth of the baser met-
als into gold in womblike matrices in the earth. The appearance of
silver in lead ores or gold in silvery assays was evidence that this
transformation was under way. Just as the child grew in the
warmth of the female womb, so the growth of metals was fostered


The earth in the Paracelsian philosophy was the mother or matrix
giving birth to plants, animals, and men.

Renaissance was diverse

In general, the Renaissance view was that all things were permeat-
ed by life, there being no adequate method by which to designate
the inanimate from the animate.
[...] but criteria by which to differentiate the living from
the nonliving could not successfully be formulated. This was due
not only to the vitalistic framework of the period but to striking
similarities between them.


Popular Renaissance literature was filled with hundreds of im-
ages associating nature, matter, and the earth with the female sex.


In the 1960s, the Native-American became a symbol in the ecol-
ogy movement's search for alternatives to Western exploitative atti-
tudes. The Indian animistic belief-system and reverence for the
earth as a · mother were contrasted with the Judeo-Christian heri-
tage of dominion over nature and with capitalist practices resulting
in the "tragedy of the commons" (exploitation of resources avail-
able for any person's or nation's use). But as will be seen, European
culture was more complex and varied than this judgment allows. It
ignores the Renaissance philosophy of the nurturing earth as well
as those philosophies and social movements resistant to mainstream
economic change.

Mining as revealing the hidden secrets

In his defense, the miner argued that the earth was not a real moth-
er, but a wicked stepmother who hides and conceals the metals in
her inner parts instead of making them available for human use.


In the old hermit's tale, we have a fascina,ting example·of the re:·
lationship between images and values. The older view of nature as a
kindly mother is challenged by the growing interests of the mining
industry in Saxony, Bohemia, and the Harz Mountains, regions of
newly found prosperity (Fig. 6). The miner, representing these
newer commercial activities, transforms the irnage of the nurturing
mother into that of a stepmother who wickedly conceals her bounty
from the deserving and needy children. In the seventeenth century,
the image will be seen to undergo yet another transformation, as
natural philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) sets forth the need
for prying into nature's nooks and crannies in searching out her se-
crets for human improvement.

-- 33