Arne Naess was Norway’s most prominent philosopher when he became convinced, in the late 1960’s, that the earth was facing an imminent ecological crisis. Naess had been a mountain climber since his youth and had a profound appreciation for nature. He also was an admirer of seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who maintained that God and nature were identical and that nature was an intricate system of interrelated parts. Pessimistic about the future of the planet but inspired by his love of nature and by Spinozistic philosophy, Naess retired from his position as professor of philosophy at the University of Oslo in 1969 to concentrate on ecological problems.
A New Approach to Ecology
In his mountain cabin named Tvergastein, meaning “crossed stones,” Naess developed an ecological philosophy that he called “deep ecology.” Deep ecology, in his view, is a matter of seeing the complex web of relations that connect all life-forms, objects, and events. In 1973, Naess published an article titled “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary” in the journal Inquiry, which he edited. In that article, Naess distinguished deep ecology from shallow ecology, an approach to ecological issues that concentrated only on specific issues, such as lowering levels of air pollution or saving particular species. Whereas shallow ecology seeks solutions to economic problems through technological fixes, deep ecology insists on fundamental economic, political, and cultural changes.
The Norwegian version of Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle was an effort to present the ideas of deep ecology in a comprehensive fashion. Boston University philosopher David Rothenberg worked with Naess on an updated, revised English translation in a number of isolated retreats in Norway, including Tvergastein, whenever Naess was not on one of his frequent trips to distant countries.
Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle describes the character of the ecological crisis, introduces the ecological philosophy of “ecosophy,” discusses the implications of this philosophy for human ways of life, and considers the economic and political implications of the philosophy. Naess identifies “ecophilosophy” as the linking of ecology and philosophy. This linkage gives rise to deep ecology, the perception of the connections among all elements of the ecological system, including human beings. It also gives rise to “ecosophy,” a point of view concerning how humanity and nature are related. Naess refers to his own ecosophy as “Ecosophy T.” Most commentators on the book have suggested that the “T” refers to Tvergastein, the cabin where Naess worked out many of his ideas.
The distinction between deep ecology as a social movement guided by fundamental principles and Ecosophy T as the personal worldview of Naess is consistent with Naess’s philosophical pluralism. Given a general basis of agreement, Naess maintains, there still can be a variety of approaches to shared goals. Naess presents his own ecosophy, his own worldview, as a guide rather than as a set of prescriptions. He wants readers to use his ecosophy to develop their own.
Establishing a set of general principles for deep ecology led Naess and ecologist George Sessions to write a deep ecology platform in 1984. A version of this platform is included in the English-language edition of Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle. The points of the platform maintain that nonhuman life and the diversity of nonhuman life have intrinsic value, that human beings are interfering excessively with the diversity of life, and that lessening this interference requires decreasing the human population and making extensive economic, technological, and ideological changes in human civilization.
Naess uses the ancient philosophical problem of qualities to illustrate his ideas of the “relational field” and of gestalt thinking. One of the classic questions of philosophy is whether qualities, such as size, color, or beauty, exist in...
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