The End Of Nature Acc. to Sense,and Acc. to Sense and Mind

“The end of nature” can be taken in two ways. If we take the phrase to be talking about, for example, what we would see if we just let nature run its course, as though it was unfolding for us on a video screen, then we see a story of sheer vanity. There may be many other generations after this one, but irrespective of how long the affair goes on, the time is coming when the sun either goes dim, or it can no longer hold down its own weight; and the earth either glows and gets burnt up like a cinder or goes as cold as ash. There won’t remain any tale of man- not even one told by an idiot. Nature does not have the power to save the memory of anything from oblivion: Homer’s Iliad, the memory of the battle of Thermopylae, Chartes Cathedral, Euclid’s Elements, The music of Palestrina… all of these things will vanish into the same faceless oblivion which billions have already vanished into, and which promises to claim each of us on any of the few thousand days that are coming. Taken in this sense, “the end of nature” means an event of total vanity.

I described the account just given as one “unfolding on a video screen”. It is nature as it presents itself to us according to mere sensation- wordless and just seen. Looking at nature with the aid of mind tells a different story, and the truer story. Mere sensation is as different from sensation and mind as seeing a persons face is from knowing their character; or as different as saying a word and knowing its definition. As Aquinas points out, intelligence is capable of “reading the interiors (inter/ legere)” and according to mind seeing the interior of what is sensed, we can tell that nature is being moved, being caused, being held in its contingent existence, being caused by some supereminent agent and end, and being ordered and determined by mind. When nature is taken according to sense and mind, “the end of nature” means an end which is outside of nature, and to which nature is both tending and testifying. Taken in this sense “the end of nature” reveals an extrinsic and unifying purpose of nature, which makes it blasphemous to claim that nature is totally without purpose.


  1. February 26, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Totally without purpose, certainly. Without knowable purpose, possibly. I don’t know, I like to think that every question can be answered with “for the greater glory of God” but for some (human) reason, we miss a lot of middle terms that way. St. Paul and all of that. . .

  2. Robert Light said,

    February 26, 2006 at 2:29 am

    Just happened to finish reading Leon Wieseltier’s basic demolition of Daniel Dennett. I’ll take this post as perhaps the coup de gras. Nice.

  3. Robert Light said,

    February 26, 2006 at 3:05 am

    “We need unities in order to think: that does not mean that unities exist. We borrowed the concept of unity from our ‘I’ (ego) concept ― our oldest article of faith [as opposed to rational, self-evident insight]. If we did not hold ourselves to be unities, we never would have fabricated the concept ‘thing’.” –Nietzsche

    Would you be willing then to accept that Nietzsche’s attempt to live as a fully consistent atheist* (all — any — human desire bespeaks a yearning for eternity/permanence, to get what it thinks is *good* for itself [eros] and that this is seen as illusory) is what drove him insane?


    * Something which the Brian Leiters of the world resolutely fail to do, and which thus (I think) expains their vitriolic political radicalism. The realization that there’s nothing that’s permanent — i.e. there’s no non arbitrary, uncreated standard/principle — by which one’s reason is vindicated opens up an abyss, triggering the passions furious vengeance against reason itself.

  4. shulamite8810 said,

    February 26, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Sed Contra:

    The fact that we adopt the principle of simplicity cannot explain why we find simple things. A tendency to reduce things to simpleelements could explain why a scienist would claim E=mc^2, but this can’t explain why the equation works.

  5. shulamite8810 said,

    February 26, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    Do I think N. is a consistent atheist? Well, yes, in one sense- he starts with one contradiction and ends with another. BUt when we start with contradiction- his “truth is ugly”- it is hard to know which particular contradiction should folow from this. If, for example, I say that snow is black, is it the same color as the white house, or not? One has a reason to go either way. And so long as contradictions are “true”, then we can believe either side of a contradiction is true, or both, or neither.

    In the end, N. has already accepted the principle of contradiction along with the rest of the world. This principle contains in itself absoute transcendence and certainty, and it speaks within us with the actual voice of God. We can deny it in speech, but we can say a great number of thing that we cannot think.

  6. February 27, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    Pardon the uneducated opinion, but isn’t this kind of a poor superficial reading of Nietzsche?

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