By nature (word borrowed from the old French nature and is derived from the Latin word natura, or “essential qualities, innate disposition”, and in ancient times, literally meant “birth”) is meant the universe considered in the totality of the phenomena and forces manifested in it, from those of the physical world to those of life in general. The total system of living beings, animals and plants, and inanimate things that present an order, realize types and are formed according to laws.

The science of nature

A fundamental progress in the conception of nature took place with Galilei and Newton: referring to the mathematical-geometric Pythagorean and Platonic vision and to atomistic mechanicism, natural reality is now seen as a machine created by God according to mathematical laws inscribed in nature itself. As Bacon had already argued, “nature is commanded only by obeying it”, but in order to know its orders, it is necessary to know its language: whoever wants to read the book of nature, Galilei says, must learn its mathematical language through the sensitive observation of phenomena and the experimental method, setting aside the world of paper and words of the ancient Aristotelian method.

After the Galilean scientific revolution, the mechanistic interpretation of nature extends in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the most diverse authors of philosophy: from the materialism of Thomas Hobbes and the Enlightenment, to the skeptical empiricism of David Hume, to the Cartesian conception of res extensa and its homme machine, to the identification of God and Nature of Baruch Spinoza, to the Kantian refoundation, against the skepticism of Hume, of the necessity and universality of the laws of nature as a complex of phenomena ordered a priori by transcendental functions. Kant so provides a philosophical justification to the mechanicism of Newtonian scientists, excluding at the same time every Cartesian rationalism and every metaphysical dogmatism. Author of a Copernican revolution of thought, Kant argued that the correct attitude to take towards the study of nature is not the one that presumes to derive natural laws from empirical observation, but on the contrary is aware that our mental schemes not only always tend to unconsciously overlap the phenomena studied, but are indeed the condition sine qua non to build an authentically scientific knowledge.

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