Changing How the World Thinks

An online magazine of big ideas

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IAI editorial

20 11 04.naturaleditorial.ata

While the pages of IAI News are updated daily, we also group our articles around monthly themes. Until now we have not made these explicit, but we are introducing this 'Note from the Editors' because we think readers will benefit from having a clearer sense of the underlying theme we are addressing in each issue, and the topics that we are seeking to uncover and address.

Our last issue addressed the theme Truth, Evidence and Lies and sought to explore the concealed bases of our beliefs and actions. The theme for the current issue is the Natural and the Unnatural. What makes a characteristic or trait natural, and how do we determine it as unnatural? What do we mean by nature, and how is it distinguished from ourselves? The distinction between the natural and the unnatural, at once so commonplace, is puzzling and problematic once it is explored. Is it a moral distinction, or a metaphysical one? And how is it to be decided?

Nor is the question of how to understand the natural and the unnatural something that we can put in the philosophical box of interesting conceptual issues but which has no great consequences. Deciding what is natural, is also to decide how to act and how to intervene in the world. It influences not only how we think society should be run but also how we understand ourselves and the world.

Philosophers, Graham Harman and Hilary Lawson explore the essential character of the natural. Speculative realist, Graham Harman, in his article, The Unnatural Divide, sets out a history of the distinction and sets about flattening the divide. Critic of realism, Hilary Lawson, in On the Cusp of the Unnatural argues that the natural can never be uncovered.

Politically, Ashwini Deshpande exposes the way in which the idea of natural hierarchy perpetuates oppression, evidenced in the Indian caste system. It is a conclusion that Sundar Surukai applies in his mission to decolonize science. In contrast, feminist Julie Bindel reasserts the distinction arguing that, while gender is a construct, sex is natural and innate.

Elsewhere, Alex McKeown questions the idea of the natural in his defence of synthetic biological organisms, leaving our fear of creating new life-forms lost and ungrounded, and Peter Khan reminds us that in the poverty of a life mediated by computer screens and spent in strip-lit rooms, we are caging ourselves like battery hens.

All the articles in the current issue will be released over the next fortnight. Including in addition a number that do not address the theme directly. We hope you find it intriguing and thought provoking.

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