Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment

Lorraine Daston

in The Moral Authority of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780226136806
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226136820 | DOI:
Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment

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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

Chapter.  10816 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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