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  Naturalism is a key idea in philosophy, the social sciences and the arts. In philosophy, it is the doctrine that all of reality is natural, that everything that exists is amenable to scientific study. Dualists—who hold that mental phenomena are non-physical—are often accused of denying naturalism. Since they hold that the mental is not physical—they must, it is said, deny that the mental is natural. But if a phenomenon is natural just if it falls under a law of Nature, then dualists can allow that the mental is natural so long as they allow that there are psychophysical or psychological laws. And if science is the investigation of the laws of Nature, and the phenomena which fall under them, then dualists who allow that there are psychophysical or psychological laws can also allow that the mental is amenable to scientific study.

In the social sciences, naturalism is a method of study which proposes that the social world should be studied in its ‘natural’ state, undisturbed by the researcher. For proponents of this view, data should come from ‘natural’ settings, as opposed to ‘artificial’ settings such as experiments or formal interviews. In this sense, naturalism contrasts with the approach to study adopted by positivism, which has a commitment to the study of social phenomena by applying the methods used in the natural sciences. Naturalism is characterized by the belief that the social researcher should adopt an attitude of appreciation and fidelity for the social world under study: social science has no business in importing research methods from the natural sciences, because social phenomena have a character quite distinct from natural phenomena. Naturalism takes issue with the assumption of positivism that the social world can be understood by means of causal relationships or in terms of universal laws. Naturalists argue that this is not possible because human actions are based upon social meanings, intentions, attitudes and beliefs. Proponents of naturalism maintain that in order to understand people\'s behaviour an approach must be adopted that gives access to the meanings which guide behaviour.

In the arts, naturalism is of crucial importance in fine art, literature and drama. In fine art, it is the attempt to imitate the appearance of the everyday world without the intervention of preconceived ideas or conventions. While much recent thinking has shown that this ‘innocent-eye’ approach is itself conventionalized and open to the play of the imagination and intellect—simply by making a work of art, even when you take a photograph, you interpose your creative self and your ideas between Nature and the spectator—the concept of naturalism has been part of the occidental way of seeing since the Renaissance, when Alberti (writing in 1436) declared that the artist\'s ‘business’ is to ‘copy Nature’. The idea seems commonplace, but thinking about it is an activity which itself affects the artist\'s approach to his or her ‘business’. In the 17th and 18th centuries, art scholars in Europe had a fine time discussing such matters as whether naturalism was compatible with idealism—they came to the conclusion that it was, arguing that the most naturalistic of all art had been produced by the artists of ancient Greece, but that while those creators had remained close to ‘true’ nature (that is, had been anatomically correct), they had also shown the limitless potential of the human spirit. By the 19th century, however, Naturalism in art-scholarly circles had taken on its current meaning: that is, referring to art which is (a) representational, and (b) associated by analogy with the empirical procedures of science, the rendering of appearances through minute observation of the natural world (as can be seen for example in the work of the Impressionists).

In literature, similarly, 19th-century adherents of naturalism advocated fiction which was ‘scientifically’ accurate. Social and historical settings and material objects should be described with meticulous accuracy, and character-development and interaction should conform to the discoveries of geneticists, psychologists and physiologists. This replacement of fantasy with science as a motor of creativity distinguishes naturalist writers from realists (whose work is predominantly descriptive rather than analytical). The chief late 19th-century exponents of naturalism were Dostoevsky and Zola, and their methods (rather than their ideas) influenced other writers of the time, notably Bennett in Britain and Dreiser in the US. In the 20th century, naturalism took its place as one of many ‘isms’ affecting the writing of fiction; it is a component (one of many) in the work of writers otherwise as distinct as Hemingway, Mauriac, Mishima, Salinger, Simenon and Wells.

In drama, 19th-century naturalism followed similar lines, reflecting the replacement by inquiry and analysis of the earlier view that human life depended on fate or other forces beyond our determination. Playwrights such as Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg, and practitioners such as Stanislavski and Antoine, produced plays and performances showing that human beings, while constrained by a material environment which might be difficult to change, still had the possibility of overcoming their condition. (This thought is central, for example, to Chekhov\'s Three Sisters, Ibsen\'s A Doll\'s House and Strindberg\'s The Father). Through accurate reproduction in sets, costumes and language, the lives as well as the prevailing ideas of characters reflected those of their audience. In the 20th century, by contrast, naturalism waned as a cultural force for change in drama: on stage, in films and on television, naturalistic drama is an entertaining but predominantly mechanical representation of contemporary society, and those dramatists who want to bring about change usually work in other styles. DA PD MG AJ KMcL JM

See also action perspective; bourgeois drama; epic theatre; idiographic; individualism; social realism; structure-agency debate; symbolic interactionism; understanding; problem play and well-made play.Further reading H. Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism; , Lilian R. Furst, Naturalism; , E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion; , R. Williams, Drama from Ibsen to Brecht.



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