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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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Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment

Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment

(p.100) 4 Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment
The Moral Authority of Nature

Lorraine Daston

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the ways in which value in nature was created in eighteenth-century natural history, with an emphasis on practices rather than theses: how certain regimens of experience (rather than proofs and arguments) established nature's values in an age that looked to nature as its guide in every realm, from the fine arts to weights and measures. Two aspects of how nature served as a source of value are in play here. First, how specific domains of the natural were redeemed as worthy objects of scientific study and personal dedication: because insects were deemed trivial or even disgusting, the efforts to elevate their status within natural history were attempts to turn dross into gold, to create value out of the least promising materials, hence the focus on Enlightenment entomology. Second, the mechanisms by which this value in specific naturalia was not merely asserted, but made into a felt, even a self-evident reality: the disciplines of attention practiced by the naturalists beatified even the most inauspicious objects.

Keywords:   natural history, value in nature, scientific study, Enlightenment, self-evident reality

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