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Comparing Merchant’s The Death Of Nature And Thomas’ Man And The Natural World

972 words - 4 pages

Comparing Merchant’sThe Death of Nature and Thomas’ Man and the Natural World

The works of Carolyn Merchant and Keith Thomas pertain to the same subject matter and even to the same time period. Nevertheless, in comparing their interpretations of the evidence and the presentation of their arguments concerning the history of mankind’s relationship with nature in Tudor and Stuart England through the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, we find that they are quite different. Merchant presents us with a rather one-sided, retrospective attack on science as the root of all environmental evil, while Thomas offers a relatively neutral, prospective look at how the people of this time reacted ...view middle of the document...

’ Nature must be ‘bound into service’ and made a ‘slave,’ put ‘in constraint’ and ‘molded’ by the mechanical arts" (169).

This doctrine of nature as an inert, unfeeling machine that Bacon and his contemporaries advocate so adamantly seems to have changed forever the belief in organicism, or, that all living beings are an equal part of nature. "The natural magician [the organicist] saw himself as operating within the organic order of nature—he was a manipulator of parts within that system, bringing down the heavenly powers to the earthly shrine" (169). In Merchant’s opinion, the abandonment of this organic view of nature in favor of Bacon’s mechanical view led to the "death of the world soul and the removal of nature’s spirits" which "helped to support increasing environmental destruction by removing any scruples that might be associated with the view that nature was a living organism" (227). With this throwing off of the moral yoke, Bacon and his fellow man were free to do with nature what they would.

Keith Thomas, however, has a very different opinion of science and the role it played in the natural world in the early modern period. The concept of change is integral to his book, Man and the Natural World. While Merchant believes that science was the downfall of nature, Thomas seems to think that it actually breathed new life into the old organic view, which had been smothered by anthropocentric interpretations of the Bible and other theological beliefs. According to Thomas, earlier interpretations of the Old Testament declared that man held ultimate dominion over nature, particularly the "brute creatures" of the earth. But as time went on, new interpretations of the Bible and, perhaps most importantly, new scientific discoveries started to change the paradigm that mankind alone occupied the throne of the world.


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