Reopening The Book of Nature: Reconceptualizing Nature Through an Environmental Hermeneutic
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The idea of nature as a book to be read has a long and rich history, playing an important role in shaping human attitudes toward the natural world. Through the medieval and early modern periods, the world came to be extensively semiotic – the leaves on the trees, the birds in the sky, the rivers and streams were to be read carefully and attentively, as they were signifiers of deeper and divine meaning. With the rise of scientific era, the metaphor no longer became relevant and in our contemporary understanding of nature, its ideas no longer seem to be important. This paper looks to return to this relinquished metaphor with new meaning and in a new light, within the framework of philosophical hermeneutics. Drawing on the philosophy of Hans Georg Gadamer, we can give credence to the notion of nature as a kind of text to be read and interpreted in an attempt to better comprehend our relationship with nature in terms of a world of meaning that we exist with, are a part of and participate in. Influenced by Gadamer, reading and interpreting nature does not remain passive, but instead is a creative and productive process. This may provide a move away from the conventional modus operandi of imposing an order on how we come to understand and relate to the environment, and subsequently open ethical components in engagements of understanding and interpreting.