Nature (philosophy)  

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Nature is a word used in two major sets of ways, which are inter-connected in a complex way, for reasons related to the history of science, epistemology and metaphysics, particularly in Western Civilization.

1. In modern scientific writing "nature" refers to all directly observable phenomena of the "physical" or material universe, and it is contrasted only with any other sort of existence, such as spiritual or supernatural existence. In a scientific text, the unqualified term “nature” normally means the same as “the cosmos” or “the universe”.

2. Historically, and also in casual speech, “nature” does not include all things, because it excludes the artificial or man-made. For example it generally does not include manufactured objects, and also generally does not include human interaction. In this case, the unqualified term “nature” generally means the same as “wilderness” or “the Natural environment”.

Connected to this second meaning, "nature" also refers to the essential properties of any particular type of thing, which exist apart from particular things, for example in the phrase "human nature".

To the extent that people might see Nature or the "natures" of things separate from the things themselves, for example if they would believe that human nature exists separately from humans, then they are in conflict with the modern scientific understanding of Nature, and their own understanding hearkens back to a debate within Classical Greek philosophy, which has never quite been resolved.

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