Timeline of Our Relationship With Nature

I believe that we have developed an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship with Nature. But I don’t think it has always been like this. To deepen my understanding of our complicated relationship with nature and how this has fluctuated over time in western societies I have been reading books by Jay Griffiths (Griffiths J, 2008  ‘Wild’ An Elemental Journey, Penguin Books) and the modern day philosopher, Mary Midgley, (Midgley M, 2013, ‘Science as Salvation, A Modern Myth and its Meaning’, Routledge).This has led me to put together the following basic timeline of key points in history and significant philosophies at the time, to help clarify developments in my own mind:

Ancients: They first identified the whole concept of nature giving it the noun ‘physis’. They were in awe of nature and if anything worshipped nature. Their wonder was represented through myths of gods and goddesses.

Early Christianity: Mankind was given “dominion” in the book of Genesis over the land and all creatures. Although some view this as a stewardship, it could be argued that this was when mankind started to see themselves as masters of all the earth, believing everything was rightfully theirs.

 Enlightenment Movement: The 17th and 18th centuries were a time of dramatic developments and revolutions in science, philosophy and within society and politics. Philosophers such as Boyle and Francis Bacon argued that nature should be seen as separate from God and was not something to be adored. This time saw the first formal feminization of nature, which some would argue enabled nature to be studied as a separate entity and as a result be exploited.

Romantic Movement: (1800-1850) Artists from all fields looked back fondly at the past, trying to recapture the close relationship mankind had shared with nature. They were accused of nostalgic romanticism and were given short shrift from critics.

Industrial Revolution : From 1870 as our knowledge of the world grew and we made technological advances, we began to think of ourselves as above nature.. Francis Bacon theorised “conquer and subdue nature, shake her to her foundations…bind her to your service and make her your slave”. (Midgley, 2013, p77).

Modern Day Philosophy: Sigmund Freud claimed: “the principal task of civilization is to defend us against nature.” (Griffiths, 2008,P43) although Griffiths points out that “today it is nature that needs defending against civilisation”. (Griffiths, 2008, P43)

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