Contrasting Theories

"Everything is in continual flux on earth. Nothing on it retains a constant and static form, and our affections, which are attached to external, necessarily pass away and change as they do." -Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Fifth Walk


"Houses are built to live in, and not to look on; therefore let us be preferred before uniformity." -Francis Bacon, from his essay, "Of Building"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau immersed himself in nature's natural greenery, meadows, mountains, and lakes. He perceived it as the greatest pleasure in the world. He wished to extend his stays in the natural world as long as possible. Rousseau believed that in nature, we may find a state of peace that "leaves the soul no emptiness it might feel a need to fill (Rousseau, Fifth Walk). But the human heart must be at peace in order to feel such harmony with nature. Our human emotions do not remain the same over time, but change with the tides of nature. There is not emotion solid enough to which one should attach himself.

Thomas Davidson, in his book, Rousseau and Education According to Nature, refers to Rousseau as one of the two chief literary inspirers of the French Revolution. Davidson describes the class of human beings from which Rousseau came as "Endowed with keen sensibility and strong appetite, which tend to direct attention upon themselves and upon immediate objects, and usually destitute of ambition, seek to enjoy each moment, as it passes, pursuing no definite path, but wandering up and down the field of time, like children, plucking flowers of delight that successively attract them (Davidson, Rousseau and Education According to Nature, 24-25)."


Francis Bacon defined nature as the dominating force over human nature. One critic, Carolyn Merchant, believed that Bacon's concept of nature "degraded and made possible the exploitation of the natural environment." Bacon believed in domination over nature for human benefit. His ideas for the exploitation of nature were to be carried out through a patriarchal structure of family and state; manipulating nature through technologies such as mining and metallurgy. Merchant believes that Bacon ultimately saw the concept of domination over nature as beneficial to the middle-class male entrepreneur. Merchant describes Bacon's ideas for dominating nature in the interest of human beings as methodical, "Nature must be 'bound into service' and made a 'slave,' put in constraint and 'molded' by the mechanical arts. The searchers and 'spies of nature' are to discover her plots and secrets (Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature)."


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Copyright 2002: History 257 - Mount Holyoke College
This page was created by
Jessica Ketchen.