Norway: RIP Arne Naess founder of Deep Ecology

Norwegian philosopher, writer and mountaineer Arne Naess, best known
for launching the concept of “deep ecology,” has died, his publisher
said Tuesday. He was 96. Naess is credited with creating the deep
ecology concept, promoting the idea that Earth as a planet has as much
right as its inhabitants, such as humans, to survive and flourish. He
cited the 1962 book “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson as a key

Ecosophy T, as distinct from deep ecology, was originally the name of
his personal philosophy. Others such as Warwick Fox have interpreted
deep ecology as a commitment to ecosophy T, Næss’s personal beliefs.
The T referred to Tvergastein, a mountain hut where he wrote many of
his books, and reflected Næss’s view that everyone should develop his
own philosophy[5].

Although a very rich and complex philosophy, Næss’ ecosophy can be
summed up as having Self-realization as its core. According to Næss,
every being, whether human, animal or vegetable has an equal right to
live and to blossom[6]. But this is not simple ego- or
self-realization; it is the realization of the Self. Through this
capitalized Self, Næss emphasizes, in distinction to realization of
man’s narrow selves, the realization of our selves as part of an
ecospheric whole.[7] It is in this whole that our true ecological Self
can be realized. Practically Self-realization for Naess means that, if
one does not know how the outcomes of one’s actions will affect other
beings, one should not act[8], similar to the liberal harm principle.

Arne Næss’ main philosophical work from the 1950s was entitled
“Interpretation and Preciseness”. This was an application of set
theory to the problems of language interpretation, extending the work
of such logicians as Leonhard Euler, and semanticists such as Charles
Kay Ogden in The Meaning of Meaning. A simple way of explaining it is
that any given utterance (word, phrase, or sentence) can be considered
as having different potential interpretations, depending on prevailing
language norms, the characteristics of particular persons or groups of
users, and the language situation in which the utterance occurred.
These differing interpretations are to be formulated in more precise
language represented as subsets of the original utterance. Each subset
can, in its turn, have further subsets (theoretically ad infinitum).

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deaneJanuary 21st, 2009 at 8:18 pm

From the Dot Earth Blog:

Paul Hawken, the author of Blessed Unrest:

He was the one who got it right and thus the person so many made wrong. I know him only by his writings and those he influenced. If there was a true north in the environmental field, it would be his work and indigenous teachings. He remained firmly centered on the core of life processes. There was never any Cartesian discursiveness. Just the unsettling truth of our existence, both its preciousness and precariousness. A good man.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, of Yale’s program on religion and ecology, just returned from a meeting in Taiwan and here adds her thoughts [UPDATE 1/19]:

When I first met Arne Naess in 1990, he was filled humor, play, and endless teasing with George Sessions who was at the same gathering. He was a philosopher with a twinkle in his eye who loved a good joke. And yet there was more. Arne Naess was not only one of the most influential thinkers in environmental philosophy, he was a person who embodied his quest for an ever deeper ecology.
He resonated with nature in ways few people have managed to achieve in the modern world. His philosophical perception did not end with ideas in the mind but extended to the living quality of nature itself. His skin met the skin of trees, plants, flowers, water, and most of all mountains. With his many years spent in the mountainous regions of his native Norway he challenged all of us to “think like a mountain”. If this alone did not break us open from arm chair philosophizing probably nothing would. Arne’s greatest legacy may be just this radical and fresh kind of thinking into the depths of a living world.

David Rothenberg, a friend and philosopher (and Dot Earth book reviewer) who translated some of Naess’s works into English, send an excerpt from an earlier piece he wrote explaining how Naess’s influence extends to former Vice President Al Gore’s views in “Earth in the Balance”:

Together with George Sessions, Naess politicized deep ecology by putting forth a platform of eight points that turn his conceptual idea into an ethical manifesto: 1) The flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth has intrinsic value. The value of nonhuman life forms is independent of the usefulness these may have for narrow human purposes. 2) Richness and diversity of life forms are values in themselves. 3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. 4) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening. 5) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease in the human population. 6) Significant change of life conditions for the better requires change in economic and technological policies. 7) Life quality should be given more primacy than a high standard of living. 8) Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation to implement the necessary changes.

This platform was specifically adopted by radical environmental groups such as Earth First! as their guiding philosophy, but deep ecology may have reached its greatest popular prominence when Senator Al Gore wrote in his 1989 book “Earth in the Balance” that, “We must change the fundamental values at the heart of our civilization” in order to solve global environmental problems. This is deep ecology in a nutshell, and by the first decade of the twenty-first century, the majority of educated people is finally going along with it, even if they may not realize where the idea came from.

Peter Singer, the ethicist focused on interspecies and human relations:

Yes, I read him. He played an important role in providing an alternative to the idea that the value of preserving the ecology lies in the benefits to humans and other sentient beings. But I don’t think he ever did much to elucidate the values at stake, or how we were to weigh the different values involved in protecting the environment. I met him when he visited Monash in 1980. He was asked to launch D.H. Monro’s book, Ethics and the Environment (Monro was my predecessor in the chair at Monash, and by then was an Emeritus). He launched the book, but did so with a stinging critique of what he regarded as its “shallow” environmentalism. Monro was somewhat taken aback, and said “Aren’t people who launch books supposed to say something positive about them?”

David Orton (a self-described “anti-industrial biocentrist”), wrote a long appreciation of Naess (pdf), from which I’ve excerpted this short interpretation of the philosopher’s distinction between deep and shallow ecology:

Naess defined the shallow ecology movement, which he says is more influential than the deep ecology movement, as “Fight against pollution and resource depletion. Central objective: the health and affluence of people in the developed countries.” The shallow approach takes for granted beliefs in technological optimism, economic growth, and scientific management and the continuation of existing industrial societies. Naess expressed it this way: “The supporters of shallow ecology think that reforming human relations toward nature can be done within the existing structure of society.” (Selected Works, Volume Ten, p. 16.)

Naess defined the “deep movement”, which seeks the transformation of industrial capitalist societies who have brought about the existing environmental crisis, by putting forward seven main points. The article is only a few pages long, but profound and showing the complexity of Naess. He pointed out that biological complexity required a corresponding social and cultural complexity. Outlined is an “anti-class posture” and how anti-pollution devices can, because of increasing the “prices of life necessities” increase class differences. He stressed local autonomy and decentralization. Read more… (pdf)

Daniel B. Botkin, an ecologist and author of many books on environmental history, told me to look at the opening chapter of “No Man’s Garden: Thoreau and a New Vision for Civilization and Nature,” for his critique of Naess. I noticed it’s distilled on Wikipedia (which I don’t normally link to but will here).

John Grim, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology:

I met Arne at the “Universe Story” gathering in Marin County some years back – Jamuary 1990 – at which I discussed with him his position on the role of religions in explicating his ideas about inner ecological attunement. He was open to a plurality of positions in this regard rather than the strong
Hindu-Upanishadic explication he presents in his writings. On another more personal dimension, it was obvious he had deep affection for mountain climbing and used metaphors from that activity to describe his thought. He knew how to dance… a truly playful being.

Peace F. TreesJanuary 21st, 2009 at 8:50 pm

By Dennis Fritzinger


Subject: [wps] elegy for arne naess

elegy for arne

was philosophy created
in the way you climbed mountains,
or was mountain climbing
a relief from philosophy?
both require
an analytic mind,
but at least if you fall from philosophy
you won’t get killed.
what drew you to the mountains
in the first place?
were your first steps on them
when you were young,
in the company of your parents?
what we do when we’re young
affects us–
imprints us even.
we become children of our experience.
you were a child of your experience,
on the mountains.
forever after that, mountain-child.
no wonder you loved them.
no wonder you would fight for them.
and on top of that,
you were born with the capacity
of deep thinking.
you were analytical by nature.
so: a synergy.
nature and you, you and nature–
never to be torn apart.
when the cities grabbed you,
lured you down, and the universities,
you came as a prophet
bearing the holy word.
you taught generations of people,
some who would go on as you did,
and fight for mountains,
in their own way.
but not just mountains, all life.
all life was sacred.
the word “compromise”
was not in your vocabulary.
later, when you got old,
too old to climb like you wanted,
to hear the mountain voices,
you boxed: to keep the blood flowing,
to keep the flesh in motion,
to keep the analytical machinery
and then, eventually,
you died. as we all must. eventually.
but what a life!
what a brilliant,
brilliant life!
like john muir,
and snyder, and the chinese sages,
you brought us something
from the mountains.

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