The Nature / = "culture.html#4"> Culture distinction is one of the most visible of those "marked" oppositions in Western culture, that attribute a superiority of one term over the other. The unmarked category is the category present to itself, the category of identity. The marked category is the category of " otherness," of value defined by another. Of course, sometimes the latter term is used in the critique of these dualisms -- held up as a superior term (perhaps under another set of conditions)...
For the most part, culture is considered superior to nature, just as mind is thought to be "over" body, men over women. A modern consensus of cultural relativism, skepticism, and Historicism has made the old conception of "Nature" with a capital N somewhat of an anachronism.
Much of what we count as nature -- as outside of culture -- is part of culture for women.
European thought has tended to imagine a "state of nature" prior to culture. In its Hobbesian guises, this state has been one of " warre", while the state of nature imagined by Rousseau is a golden age of peace. For Rousseau, "Nothing could be more gentle" than man in his natural state.
Language has been used to distinguish mankind from all other species, as the basis for the distinction between nature and culture. The traditional contest between painting and poetry, what Leonardo called the paragone , or more broadly between images and words, has rehearsed the opposition between the "natural" or iconic signs of images, versus the conventionality or arbitrariness of language. Affirming the superiority of language becomes a token of our freedom from and superiority to nature. Affirming the naturalness of the image makes it a universal means of communication that provides a direct, unmediated, and accurate representation of things. (see WJT Mitchell, Iconology, pp.78-79)
see: Hilary Putnam, "Convention: a Theme in Philosophy" , New Literary History 13:1 (Autumn, 1981)