naturalism

/nach"euhr euh liz'euhm, nach"reuh-/, n.
1. Literature.
a. a manner or technique of treating subject matter that presents, through volume of detail, a deterministic view of human life and actions.
b. a deterministic theory of writing in which it is held that a writer should adopt an objective view toward the material written about, be free of preconceived ideas as to form and content, and represent with clinical accuracy and frankness the details of life. Cf. realism (def. 4b).
c. a representation of natural appearances or natural patterns of speech, manner, etc., in a work of fiction.
d. the depiction of the physical environment, esp. landscape or the rural environment.
2. (in a work of art) treatment of forms, colors, space, etc., as they appear or might appear in nature. Cf. idealism (def. 4), realism (def. 3a).
3. action arising from or based on natural instincts and desires alone.
4. Philos.
a. the view of the world that takes account only of natural elements and forces, excluding the supernatural or spiritual.
b. the belief that all phenomena are covered by laws of science and that all teleological explanations are therefore without value.
5. Theol.
a. the doctrine that all religious truth is derived from a study of natural processes and not from revelation.
b. the doctrine that natural religion is sufficient for salvation.
6. adherence or attachment to what is natural.
[1635-45; NATURAL + -ISM]

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I
Aesthetic movement of the late 19th to early 20th century.

The movement was inspired by the principles and methods of natural science, especially Darwinism, which were adapted to literature and art. In literature, naturalism extended the tradition of realism, aiming at an even more faithful, pseudoscientific representation of reality, presented without moral judgment. Characters in naturalistic literature typically illustrate the deterministic role of heredity and environment on human life. The movement originated in France, where its leading exponent was Émile Zola. In America it is associated with the work of writers such as Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser. Visual artists associated with naturalism chose themes from life, capturing subjects unposed and not idealized, thus giving their works an unstudied air. Following the lead of the Realist painter Gustave Courbet, painters chose themes from contemporary life, and many deserted the studio for the open air, finding subjects among peasants and tradespeople, capturing them as they found them. As a result, finished canvases had the freshness and immediacy of sketches. Zola, the spokesman for literary naturalism, was also the first to champion Édouard Manet and the Impressionists (see Impressionism).While naturalism was short-lived as a historical movement, it contributed to art an enrichment of realism, new areas of subject matter, and a largeness and formlessness that was closer to life than to art. Its multiplicity of impressions conveyed the sense of a world in constant flux.
II
In philosophy, the theory that affirms that all beings and events in the universe are natural and therefore can be fully known by the methods of scientific investigation.

Though naturalism has often been equated with materialism, it is much broader in scope. Strictly speaking, naturalism has no ontological bias toward any particular set of categories of reality: dualism and monism, atheism and theism, idealism and materialism are all compatible with it. Naturalism was most influential in the 1930s and '40s, chiefly in the U.S. among philosophers such as F.J.E. Woodbridge (1867–1940), Morris R. Cohen (1880–1947), John Dewey, Ernest Nagel (1901–85), Sidney Hook (1902–89), and W.V.O. Quine.

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art
      in literature and the visual arts, late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that was inspired by adaptation of the principles and methods of natural science, especially the Darwinian view of nature, to literature and art. In literature it extended the tradition of realism, aiming at an even more faithful, unselective representation of reality, a veritable “slice of life,” presented without moral judgment. Naturalism differed from realism in its assumption of scientific determinism, which led naturalistic authors to emphasize man's accidental, physiological nature rather than his moral or rational qualities. Individual characters were seen as helpless products of heredity and environment, motivated by strong instinctual drives from within and harassed by social and economic pressures from without. As such, they had little will or responsibility for their fates, and the prognosis for their “cases” was pessimistic at the outset.

      Naturalism originated in France and had its direct theoretical basis in the critical approach of Hippolyte Taine (Taine, Hippolyte), who announced in his introduction to Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1863–64; History of English Literature) that “there is a cause for ambition, for courage, for truth, as there is for digestion, for muscular movement, for animal heat. Vice and virtue are products, like vitriol and sugar.” Though the first “scientific” novel was the Goncourt brothers' case history of a servant girl, Germinie Lacerteux (1864), the leading exponent of naturalism was Émile Zola (Zola, Émile), whose essay “Le Roman expérimental” (1880; “The Experimental novel”) became the literary manifesto of the school. According to Zola, the novelist was no longer to be a mere observer, content to record phenomena, but a detached experimenter who subjects his characters and their passions to a series of tests and who works with emotional and social facts as a chemist works with matter. Upon Zola's example the naturalistic style became widespread and affected to varying degrees most of the major writers of the period. Guy de Maupassant's (Maupassant, Guy de) popular story “The Necklace” heralds the introduction of a character who is to be treated like a specimen under a microscope. The early works of Joris-Karl Huysmans, of the German dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann, and of the Portuguese novelist José Maria Eça de Queirós were based on the precepts of naturalism.

      The Théâtre Libre (Théâtre-Libre) was founded in Paris in 1887 by André Antoine and the Freie Bühne of Berlin in 1889 by Otto Brahm to present plays dealing with the new themes of naturalism in a naturalistic style with naturalistic staging. A parallel development occurred in the visual arts. Painters (painting), following the lead of the realist painter Gustave Courbet (Courbet, Gustave), were choosing themes from contemporary life. Many of them deserted the studio for the open air, finding subjects among the peasants and tradesmen in the street and capturing them as they found them, unpremeditated and unposed. One result of this approach was that their finished canvases had the freshness and immediacy of sketches. Zola, the spokesman for literary naturalism, was also the first to champion Édouard Manet and the Impressionists.

      Despite their claim to complete objectivity, the literary naturalists were handicapped by certain biases inherent in their deterministic theories. Though they faithfully reflected nature, it was always a nature “red in tooth and claw.” Their views on heredity gave them a predilection for simple characters dominated by strong, elemental passions. Their views on the overpowering effects of environment led them to select for subjects the most oppressive environments—the slums or the underworld—and they documented these milieus, often in dreary and sordid detail. The drab palette of Vincent van Gogh's (Gogh, Vincent van) naturalistic painting “The Potato Eaters” (1885; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) was the palette of literary naturalism. Finally, they were unable to suppress an element of romantic protest against the social conditions they described.

      As a historical movement, naturalism per se was short-lived; but it contributed to art an enrichment of realism, new areas of subject matter, and a largeness and formlessness that was indeed closer to life than to art. Its multiplicity of impressions conveyed the sense of a world in constant flux, inevitably junglelike, because it teemed with interdependent lives.

      In American literature, naturalism had a delayed blooming in the work of Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Jack London; and it reached its peak in the art of Theodore Dreiser (Dreiser, Theodore). James T. Farrell's (Farrell, James T.) “Studs Lonigan” trilogy (1932–35) is one of the latest expressions of true naturalism.

      in philosophy, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation. Although naturalism denies the existence of truly supernatural realities, it makes allowance for the supernatural, provided that knowledge of it can be had indirectly—that is, that natural objects be influenced by the so-called supernatural entities in a detectable way.

      Naturalism presumes that nature is in principle completely knowable. There is in nature a regularity, unity, and wholeness that implies objective laws, without which the pursuit of scientific knowledge would be absurd. Man's endless search for concrete proofs of his beliefs is seen as a confirmation of naturalistic methodology. Naturalists point out that even when one scientific theory is abandoned in favour of another, man does not despair of knowing nature, nor does he repudiate the “natural method” in his search for truth. Theories change; methodology does not.

      While naturalism has often been equated with Materialism, it is much broader in scope. Materialism is indeed naturalistic, but the converse is not necessarily true. Strictly speaking, naturalism has no ontological preference; i.e., no bias toward any particular set of categories of reality: dualism and monism, atheism and theism, idealism and materialism are all per se compatible with it. So long as all of reality is natural, no other limitations are imposed. Naturalists have in fact expressed a wide variety of views, even to the point of developing a theistic naturalism.

      Only rarely do naturalists give attention to metaphysics (which they deride), and they make no philosophical attempts to establish their position. Naturalists simply assert that nature is reality, the whole of it. There is nothing beyond, nothing “other than,” no “other world” of being.

      Naturalism's greatest vogue occurred during the 1930s and '40s, chiefly in the United States among philosophers such as F.J.E. Woodbridge, Morris R. Cohen, John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, and Sidney Hook.

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Universalium. 2010.

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