Environmental Ethics

Volume 22, Issue 3, Fall 2000

Christopher J. Preston
Pages 227-240

Conversing with Nature in a Postmodern Epistemological Framework

In a recent contribution to this journal, Jim Cheney argues for a postmodern epistemological framework that supports a conception of inquiry as a kind of “conversation” with nature. I examine how Cheney arrives at this metaphor and consider why it might be an appealing one for environmental philosophers. I note how, in the absence of an animistic account of nature, this metaphor turns out to be problematic. A closer examination of the postmodern insights that Cheney employs reveals that it is possible to stress the agency of nature in epistemology without having to draw on the metaphor of conversation. I conclude that this alternative account is not only more plausible, but can probably do the same ethical work as the problematic metaphor of inquiry as conversation.