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Preferred Nomenclature

December 2, 2009

Depending on how wide a perspective you take on things, certain words cease to have any meaning whatsoever, but I am not sure if I agree with this one perspective on the artificial/natural distinction.

As Wittgenstein might have argued, when words are given a mistaken or arbitrary definition or connotation, they may in fact have no meaning and only obstruct our language games.  For example, if we want the term “artificial” to mean anything, the definition must at a minimum encompass the fact that artificial things are uniquely the product of human efforts and exclude those things that are the results of larger, natural forces.  While it’s hard to find things that are exclusively within such a set, given that all things have natural causes as their necessary causes, I think the term can be usefully employed to describe things that are products of the human intellect and self-consciousness (which I would posit is what separates us from the rest of the natural world).  Therefore, while the concept of a city writ large may be a social structure that is a roughly organic product of large social forces and therefore “natural,” I would argue that an individual building, a piece of clothing or a song is probably fairly described as artificial.

Of course, by my definition, these distinctions are artificial and worth about what they cost you.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 31, 2009 5:39 pm

    Hey, ok, I get it, I guess – but does this really work?

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