What is human nature and how does it relate to the physical nature that surrounds us? Theories of human nature are varied throughout history. The various theories of human nature help us to define the concept as it relates to physical and environmental nature. Within my component of our website, entitled “Nature and Human Nature,” I have contrasted the two very different theories of Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, concerning human nature’s relationship to nature.
The two images that are presented here, on my gateway page, are visual representations of the contrasting theories of Rousseau and Bacon. The image on the left is a painting called “An Experiment on a Bird in the Airpump.” The looks of anticipation and curiosity on the faces of the people indicate their interest in the scientist’s experiment on the bird. This image portrays curiosity as a characteristic of human nature, as the dominating force over nature. There is a clear contrast between this image on the one on the right, which shows the lake’s reflection of a mountain; and represents Rousseau’s theory of self-reflection within nature.
The second page I will show you is called “Contrasting Theories”
Go to “Contrasting Theories” Page Within my examination of the contrasting theories of Bacon and Rousseau, I have assimilated the remarks of two critics; Carolyn Merchant, who gives a thoughtful and quite assertive critique to Bacon’s ideas in her book The Death of Nature, and Thomas Davidson, who assesses Rousseau’s life and work in his book Rousseau and Education According to Nature.
Rousseau places nature at the center of human nature by immersing himself in it’s depths, as a means of achieving harmony between himself and nature. In the pages of his essay, “Fifth Walk,” Rousseau describes nature as a place where we many find a state of peace that “leaves the soul no emptiness it might need to fill.”
On the other hand, Bacon’s interpretation of human nature challenges our ability to dominate over physical nature, and even, as Merchant has said in her book, “degrades and makes possible the exploitation of the natural environment.”
You may be wondering how the contrasting theories of human nature tie in with Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. There is a specific quote from the novel that is taken from Rousseau’s work that relates the importance of my topic to Mary Shelley’s novel:
“The immense mountains and precipes that overhung me on every side, the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of waterfalls around spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence- and I ceased to fear or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here displayed in their most terrific guise (Frankenstein, 78).”
The quote from Rousseau magnifies the role of nature in the novel and suggests the curiosity of the unknown that is also inherent within human nature.
And next, Becky will tell you more about curiosity and it’s ties to Frankenstein and it’s origins.