Ecological science has at one time or another deemed nature a machine, an organism, a community, or a system. These metaphors do not refer to any metaphysical entity, but are useful fictions in terms of how they reflect the beliefs and values held by members of a scientific and cultural community. First I trace the history of ecological metaphors from the metaphysical and cultural perspectives. Then I document a gradual transition from a belief in structural natural order to a belief in conceptual natural order. Finally, I conclude by arguing that the metaphysical allegiances of ecological theories have largely been shaped by aesthetic considerations.