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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 28 No. 1, p. 1-10
     
    Received: Dec 29, 1997


    * Corresponding author(s): gmcisaac@uiuc.edu
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doi:10.2134/jeq1999.00472425002800010001x

Natural Environment and Human Culture: Defining Terms and Understanding Worldviews

  1. G. F. McIsaac * and
  2. M. Brün
  1. Dep. of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 1102 South Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL 61801.

Abstract

Abstract

The terms nature and natural each have several different meanings, which can lead to confusion in communications about environmental issues. One approach to clarifying discussion, frequently used in the sciences, is to develop precise, operational definitions of terminology. We argue that this approach can be ineffective when applied to multi-faceted conceptual terms such as nature, natural, and culture. We think the range of legitimate meanings for these terms may be better communicated by historical accounts of use that describe the assumptions, contexts, and woridviews associated with different interpretations. These accounts do not resolve disagreement but can help clarify the basis for it, and open up new avenues of inquiry. In this paper, we examine the terms nature, natural environment, environmental change, and environmental degradation. A recent article in this journal offered precise definitions of the last three of these terms that were based on the idea that natural is that which is relatively uninfluenced by human culture. Although this is a commonly accepted meaning of natural, we contend that this meaning needs to be carefully scrutinized. We identify specific problems with this usage and offer an account of use of the term nature, which we think provides a more thorough understanding of how nature and natural have been used and understood in different contexts. Since the term natural can be understood several different ways, communication of any particular meaning requires careful articulation of the intended meaning in light of several alternative interpretations.

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