Nature: Ancient and Modern

Agora Hosts an Academic Conference

  • Date Apr 17, 2015 — Apr 19, 2015
  • Venue Omni Hotel at Independence Park
    Omni Hotel at Independence Park
    401 Chestnut St.
    Philadelphia, PA 19106

The Agora Institute recently hosted our second academic conference entitled “Nature: Ancient and Modern,” from April 17-19, 2015. 

Participants in the conference studied the transition from ancient to modern conceptions of nature in order to better understand how and why appeals to the language of nature might prove ineffective in contemporary America. Questions we asked include: is it true that “nature” is an ineffective category in moral and political deliberation, and, if so, why? Is it because such appeals no longer make sense within the context of modern understandings of nature? What is it about modern understandings of nature that make such appeals unproductive? In order to focus our efforts, we will examine in particular how the idea of nature changed in the transition from the late middle ages into modernity.

We think it is important to look at this time in order to determine how and why a change in the meaning of “nature” took place. Was there something faulty or incomplete in the traditional account of nature? Is there anything good or true in the modern account of nature? Or is the transition a result of intellectual error or willful revolt against ancient wisdom? These are important questions because our answers to them will frame how we approach the task of persuading our fellow citizens to recognize the validity of the principles on which the American polity was founded. Before we can determine whether to continue to use the languages of natural law and natural rights, we must first determine how we can and should understand and speak of nature.

Conferees included the following distinguished faculty:

Gregory Beabout, Barry Cooper, Jesse Covington, Fr. Stephen Fields, Jr., Jeremy Geddert, Glenn Hughes, Steve McGuire, Anna Moreland, Melissa Moschella, Amy Richards, Randy Rosenberg, Charles Rubin, Susan Shell, Thomas Smith, R.J. Snell, James Stoner, Chris Tollefsen, and Geoffrey Vaughan.

A special thank you to Earhart Foundation for its support of the Agora Instiute and this conference, in particular.