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Interpreting Nature

The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics

Forrest Clingerman

Publication Year: 2013

Modern environmentalism has come to realize that many of its key concerns "wilderness" and "nature" among them are contested territory, viewed differently by different people. Understanding nature requires science and ecology, to be sure, but it also requires a sensitivity tom, history, culture, and narrative. Thus, understanding nature is a fundamentally hermeneutic task.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Groundworks: Ecological Issues in Philosophy and Theology

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction: Environmental Hermeneutics

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pp. 1-14

Friedrich Nietzsche famously stated: “There are no facts, only interpretations.”1 Perhaps this could be slightly rephrased: no facts go uninterpreted. There are simply no bare facts, at least if a fact is to be meaningful. Every fact has meaning only in relation to other facts, to context, and to the human understanding itself. In other...

I. Interpretation and the Task of Thinking Environmentally

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1. Environmental Hermeneutics Deep in the Forest

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pp. 17-35

Paul Ricoeur said that the main task of hermeneutics is to clarify and mediate “the confl ict of interpretations” in the world.1 If this is true, hermeneutics should be well suited for dealing with heated environmental confl icts, such as local, national, and international confl icts over the use of forests. For their part, these frequently...

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2. Morrow’s Ants: E. O. Wilson and Gadamer’s Critique of (Natural) Historicism

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pp. 36-64

In 1975 Edward Hyams, novelist, gardener, broadcaster, anarchist, and a long-time advocate of the need for agriculturally sustainable societies, wrote a political novel, Morrow’s Ants.1 It tells the story of billionaire businessman Graham Morrow’s attempt to build a futuristic city modeled on his intensive study of ant colonies.2 The

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3. Layering: Body, Building, Biography

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pp. 65-81

Among the most challenging issues facing environmental hermeneutics is how to think about person-world relationships in an integrated manner—not by way of conceptually separated natural environments and social spheres—as if there were either some “pure nature” untouched by our interpretations and actions or any human...

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4. Might Nature Be Interpreted as a“Saturated Phenomenon”?

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pp. 82-101

Could elements of “nature” appear to us as what Jean-Luc Marion calls “saturated phenomena”?1 And if so, how might that be useful for environmental thinking? While at first glance it might seem obvious that natural phenomena could be experienced as saturated, Marion himself has never employed such phenomena as examples...

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5. Must Environmental Philosophy Relinquish the Concept of Nature? A Hermeneutic Reply to Steven Vogel

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pp. 102-120

In a series of astute papers over the last fi fteen years, Steven Vogel has developed a remarkably compelling social constructivist critique of “nature.” Having drawn on several well-known and widely accepted postmodern worries, he might have appeared vulnerable to the traditional environmentalist’s equally well-known counterthrust...

II. Situating the Self

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6. Environmental Hermeneutics and Environmental/Eco-Psychology: Explorations in Environmental Identity

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pp. 123-140

Environmental hermeneutics is, as the subtitle of this book claims, an “emerging field.” It is not the case that philosophical hermeneutics and environmental discourse have not been thought together before. But a “field” suggests a body of knowledge that is at once diverse yet coherent: Diverse, in that there are multiple perspectives and applications...

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7. Environmental Hermeneutics with and for Others: Ricoeur’s Ethics and the Ecological Self

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pp. 141-159

Narrative identity has been a signifi cant area of focus in environmental hermeneutics. This concept of identity builds on Paul Ricoeur’s formulation of the ethical intention of the self: “aiming at the ‘good life’ with and for others, in just institutions.1 While Ricoeur’s ethical intention has come up in relation to environmental...

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8. Bodily Moods and Unhomely Environments: The Hermeneutics of Agoraphobia and the Spirit of Place

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pp. 160-178

Shortly after his coach was nearly thrown into the Seine while crossing the Neuilly-sur-Seine Bridge in 1654, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal became convinced that an abyss had formed on his left-hand side. Quite apart from the logical improbability that such an abyss was real, this near miss of the Seine had set in a place a reality of...

III. Narrativity and Image

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9. Narrative and Nature:Appreciating and Understanding the Nonhuman World

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pp. 181-200

Common convention, as well as numerous philosophical and scientific accounts, suggests that there are two primary ways of gaining understanding: theory (theoria) and practice (praxis). In this context, I mean by the former all sorts of abstract ways of coming to know or understand things, with the caveat that in our age pride of place is...

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10. The Question Concerning Nature

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pp. 201-224

In this chapter, I situate Timothy Morton’s and Slavoj Žižek’s “ecology without nature” (hereafter EWN) within the broader history of transcendental-structuralist ontology.1 I will argue that, notwithstanding Morton’s recent turn to object-oriented ontology, his deconstruction of a certain notion of nature, which we provisionally...

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11. New Nature Narratives:Landscape Hermeneutics and Environmental Ethics

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pp. 225-242

Philosophical hermeneutics is built on the assumption that people make sense of their lives by placing themselves in a larger normative context. Environmental hermeneutics focuses on the fact that environments matter to people, too, because environments embody just such contexts.1 This is most obvious for cultural landscapes, yet...

IV. Environments, Place, and the Experience of Time

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12. Memory, Imagination, and the Hermeneutics of Place

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pp. 245-263

Humans are creatures of the present, and the places that we inhabit oftentimes abet an emphasis on presence. For example, much of our daily interaction occurs in spaces that offer little to discriminate the times of day or season. Artificial lights, heating, air conditioning, walls, and doors maintain a continuous backdrop and regulate the...

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13. The Betweenness of Monuments

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pp. 264-280

Often when we think about the environment, we think about natural places and the negative impact of the human being upon those places. We think of global warming, melting ice caps, mountain topping, extinction of animals, and other threats to nature. With the increasing public and social emphasis on environmentalism, we are...

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14. My Place in the Sun

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pp. 281-296

In this chapter, I pursue the thought that it is via temporality, especially history, that place is distinct from space. I show that this claim survives our moving away from a naïve naturalistic understanding of the past to one constructed and constituted so as to include narrative, intentions, and projections even when these form...

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15. How Hermeneutics Might Save the Life of (Environmental) Ethics

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pp. 297-312

Can a hermeneutical approach be helpful to environmental moral philosophy? Can it help to deal with the main issues of this applied ethic,1 that is, the improvement of the disturbed relation between humans and their natural environment, the way this relation ought to be (conceived of), and the moral status of the nonhuman world?


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pp. 313-364

A Bibliographic Overview of Research in Environmental Hermeneutics

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pp. 365-372


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pp. 373-376


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pp. 377-384

Further Reading

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pp. 399-400

E-ISBN-13: 9780823254293
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823254255
Print-ISBN-10: 0823254259

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth
Series Title: Groundworks: Ecological Issues in Philosophy and Theology