For Kant, nature is the existence of things insofar as they are determined in accordance with universal laws. For Kant, the categorial principle of unity is a requirement for the very concept of nature. As he puts it in the Prolegomena to the Critique of Pure Reason, "nature is the existence of things, considered as existence determined according to universal laws." For Kant, the idea of God serves to symbolize or "schematize" the highest form of systematic unity to which empirical knowledge can be brought, the purposive unity of things. (B714) "God has put a secret art into the forces of Nature so as to enable it to fashion itself out of chaos into a perfect world system."
We assume that nature specifies its universal laws according to the Idea of system, such that every part is related to every other and to the whole, and we cannot regard this relation as merely accidental. This is the logical purposiveness of nature (see teleology ) . In the Critique of Judgement, Kant describes the pleasure we experience when nature conforms to the requirements of our subjectivity.
German idealist philosophy distinguished between the realm of nature and the realm of freedom.
For Kant, Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy stood as a classical prototype, or canon, by which to judge all subsequent science. Newton's great achievement was to have produced a mathematical theory of nature that provided general solutions based on a rational system of deduction and mathematical inference, coupled with experiment and critical observation. Newtonian mechanics established "universal laws" that explained the movements of the planets, the tides, and whose predictive powers were given an overwhelming demonstration with the appearance of Halley's comet, just as predicted, in 1758, long after both Halley and Newton were dead. (see mechanism / vitalism)
"Why should Nature care about our feelings of beauty?" --Freeman Dyson
For Claude Levi-Strauss, primitive thought is just as much based on the demand for order as is scientific thought, whose most basic postulate is that nature itself is orderly.
For Rom Harré, a law of nature is not an independent, free-standing statement, but is intimately bound up with a theory, in the heart of which is a model or analogy which represents the generative mechanisms that produce the phenomena the law describes. (Laws of Nature, p. 114)
For Freud, the control of objects and of nature is an expression of the instinct of destruction, or death instinct. Its expression is accompanied by a high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, as it presents the ego with a fulfillment of the latter's old wishes for omnipotence. (Civilization and its Discontents, p. 68)
see nature / culture dualism
Darwin's theory of evolution requires that the kind of event found in nature and hooked up to other events by laws of nature, be replaced by that of historical lineage and that the concept of essential nature be replaced by that of the accidental collocation of properties. In traditional terms, the forma essentialis is replaced by that of forma accidentalis. For Alfred North Whitehead, nature is a structure of evolving processes, and the realities of nature are the prehensions in nature, that is to say, the events in nature.
According to the computational viewpoint, the laws of nature are algorithms that control the development of the system in real time, just like real programs do for computers.