restricted access “Cabinet d’Histoire Naturelle,” or: The Interplay of Nature and Artifice in Diderot’s Naturalism

In selected texts by Diderot, including the Encyclopédie article “Cabinet d’histoire naturelle” (along with his comments in the article “Histoire nat-urelle”), the Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature and the Salon de 1767, I examine the interplay between philosophical naturalism and the recognition of the irreducible nature of artifice, in order to arrive at a provisional definition of Diderot’s vision of Nature as “une femme qui aime à se travestir.” How can a metaphysics in which the concept of Nature has a normative status, also ultimately consider it to be something necessarily artificial? Historically, the answer to this question involves the project of natural history. A present-day reconstruction would have to make sense of this project and relate it to the vision of Nature expressed in Diderot’s phrase. In addition, it would hopefully pinpoint the difference between this brand of Enlightenment naturalism and contemporary naturalism, and by extension, allow us to understand a bit more about what naturalism is in general.