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The Moral Authority of Nature$
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Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226136806

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226136820.001.0001

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Ants and the Nature of Nature in Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, and William Morton Wheeler

Ants and the Nature of Nature in Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, and William Morton Wheeler

(p.282) 11 Ants and the Nature of Nature in Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, and William Morton Wheeler
The Moral Authority of Nature
A. J. Lustig
University of Chicago Press

Social behavior naturalized in ants conveys complex messages about the naturalness of social behavior in humans, with ramifying implications. If ants divide their labor, communicate, cultivate crops, gather their harvests, raise cattle, wage war on one another, prey on one another, parasitize one another, even support arrays of unrelated, sometimes detrimental species, then how far can similar behaviors be unique products of human nature rather than natural nature in humans who have likewise evolved? How natural, in short, a category is society? And is human freedom within societies a product of nature, or a human attempt to deny it? The biologists Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, and William Morton Wheeler each grappled with these problems, finding different tensions and resolutions. The three premier “pure” myrmecologists of their day (as opposed to applied entomologists whose interest in ants lay primarily in devising ways of stamping them out rather than celebrating their marvels), they laid down a foundation of observations, terminology, and theory on the social insects that continue to shape modern biology.

Keywords:   ants, Auguste Forel, Erich Wasmann, William Morton Wheeler, social behavior, human freedom, social insects, modern biology

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