Activity: What is “Natural?”

Thanks are due to Professor Thomas Wartenberg of Mount Holyoke College for the initial idea that prompted this activity.

  1. Cut up ten slips of paper and write the following:
  • a living tree
  • a dead tree
  • a piece of paper
  • a living dog
  • a leather jacket
  • an automobile
  • a bouquet of cut flowers
  • a rock
  • the Earth
  • you
  1. Have the group sort the papers into three piles: Natural, Not Natural, and Unsure. This may require extensive discussion, as participants will disagree! If you have a large group (more than six or seven), consider splitting the group in half and having each small group do the activity separately, and then come back together to discuss how you made the choices you did.
  2. Pay special attention to the Unsure pile. Why are those items not classifiable? Would you need more information about the object/entities to make a decision? What would you need to know?
  3. Is the word “natural” itself an objective word, or does it have multiple meanings?