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Proteus Rebound: Reconsidering the “Torture of Nature”

Peter Pesic
Isis
Vol. 99, No. 2 (June 2008), pp. 304-317
DOI: 10.1086/588627
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/588627
Page Count: 14
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Proteus Rebound
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Though Carolyn Merchant has agreed that Francis Bacon did not advocate the “torture of nature,” she still maintains that “the very essence of the experimental method arose out of human torture transferred onto nature.” Her arguments do not address serious problems of logic, context, and contrary evidence. Her particular insistence on the influence of the torture of witches ignores Bacon's skepticism about witchcraft as superstitious or imaginary. Nor do the writings of his successors sustain her claim that they carried forward his supposed program to abuse nature. We should be wary of metaphorical generalizations that ignore the context of the metaphor, the larger intent of the writers, and the fundamental limitations of such metaphors as descriptions of science.

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