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

Edited by A. J. Lustig

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

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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

Chapter.  10198 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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