Autonomous Nature : Problems of Prediction and Control From Ancient Times to the Scientific Revolution book cover
1st Edition

Autonomous Nature
Problems of Prediction and Control From Ancient Times to the Scientific Revolution

ISBN 9781138931008
Published September 17, 2015 by Routledge
210 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Autonomous Nature investigates the history of nature as an active, often unruly force in tension with nature as a rational, logical order from ancient times to the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Along with subsequent advances in mechanics, hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, nature came to be perceived as an orderly, rational, physical world that could be engineered, controlled, and managed. Autonomous Nature focuses on the history of unpredictability, why it was a problem for the ancient world through the Scientific Revolution, and why it is a problem for today. The work is set in the context of vignettes about unpredictable events such as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the Bubonic Plague, the Lisbon Earthquake, and efforts to understand and predict the weather and natural disasters. This book is an ideal text for courses on the environment, environmental history, history of science, or the philosophy of science.

Table of Contents

Part I. Autonomous Nature 1. Chaos, Physis, Nature, and Law 2. Christianity and Nature 3. Nature Personified: Renaissance Ideas of Nature Part II. Controlling Nature 4. Vexing Nature 5. Natural Law 6. The Laws of Nature Epilogue. Rambunctious Nature: Implications for the Future

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Carolyn Merchant is Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Death of Nature; Ecological Revolutions; and Reinventing Eden among other books. She is a past president of the American Society for Environmental History and a recipient of the Society’s Distinguished Scholar Award.


In this ambitious history of ideas, Carolyn Merchant calls attention to the ancient idea of nature as unpredictable, rebellious, and impossible to understand and control completely. She urges us to recover that older idea for the foundation of a new ecological ethic. Wide-ranging, original, and provocative.

Donald Worster, author of "Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas"


Merchant has written a key history of ideas for evaluating two of the big questions today: how did we get into this mess, and how can we get out of it. Western thinkers, who gave us the scientific method, also fell short of the truer, fuller view of reality, dynamical and chaotic. It is against this richer backdrop that we can grasp today’s emerging complexity paradigm, and find hope and insight for restoring our planet’s beautifully ‘rambunctious gardens.’

Jennifer Wells, California Institute of Integral Studies, author of Complexity and Sustainability


'I believe this book can be recommended highly to the readers for whom Carolyn Merchant intended it: “those with a background in the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences and for an educated audience interested in the past, present, and future of humanity and life on Earth”'

J. Donald Hughes

The information and content of this book are unique, and it will help readers to understand the history of climate change governance. The extensive bibliography shows the intensive research done to put forth the facts as a testimonial to the credibility of the book.

S. Suresh Ramanan, Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Merchant’s book can help inform education programs that are concerned with understanding changing human relationships with nature and how humanity can live with an autonomous earthly nature in a partnership ethic. I found Merchant’s book easier to digest and apply in educational settings.

Annette Gough, University, Melbourne, Australian Journal of Environmental Education