Volume 17, Issue 3, Fall 1995
John van Buren
Critical Environmental Hermeneutics
Local, national, and international conflicts over the use of forests between logging companies, governments, environmentalists, native peoples, local residents, recreationalists, and others—e.g., the controversy over the spotted owl in the old-growth forests of the Northwestern United States and over the rain forests in South America—have shown the need for philosophical reflection to help clarify the basic issues involved. Joining other philosophers who are addressing this problem, my own response takes the form of a sketch of the rough outlines of a critical environmental hermeneutics. I apply hermeneutics, narrative theory, and critical theory to environmental ethics, and use this hermeneutical theory as a method to illuminate the “deep” underlying issues relating to the perception and use of forests. In applying this method, I first take up the analytical problem of identifying, clarifying, and ordering the different interpretive narratives about forests in terms of the underlying epistemological, ethical, and political issues
involved. I then address the critical problem of deciding conflicts between these different interpretations of forests by working out a set of legitimation criteria to which all parties concerned would ideally be able to subscribe.