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Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises

by Arne Naess

Arne Naess replies to Grover Foley and Henryk Skolimowski, whose articles, he argues, reveal uimportant misunderstandings which slur over the broad agreement between the authors and myself" For Naess, Deep Ecology is not a rigid dogma, but rather a 'platform that draws together supporters from disparate backgrounds and gives them a base

from which to reassess humanity1 s relationship with Nature.

The values that supporters of the Deep Ecology movement share in common cannot necessarily be formulated in terms of a single set of propositions or expressed in a single language. They are the product of a dynamic social movement and cannot therefore be pinned down as i f they belonged to a painstakingly formulated philosophy of the relationship between man and nature, or as i f they formed a coherent body of doctrine. Deep Ecologists do not have a discrete philosophy or religion in common — a definite credo, a set of ultimate 'norms and hypotheses' — and why should they? When those representatives of different denominations and religions , who are also supporters of the Deep Ecology movement, come together at Assisi, for example, should they have to agree to do mutual missionary work? Why Gleichschaltungl Why monolithic ideologies? We have had enough of those in both European and world history.

Supporters of Deep Ecology aim to conserve what is left of the richness and diversity of life on Earth — and that includes human cultural diversity. Representing highly different religions and philosophies, Deep Ecologists articulate themselves using the ultimate premises on which their diverse holy texts or philosophical traditions are based. Their ecological views are conclusions based on those premises (but not, of course, only on those premises).

The present crisis in the relationship between man and nature has revealed a surprising amount in common between the different supporters of Deep Ecology. The Arne Naess is one of Norway's most eminent philosophers and the founding father of the Deep Ecology movement.


so-called 'environmental' policies which they oppose are approximately the same. Their critique of dominant trends in rich industrial societies is much the same. Similarly, their regret for the lack of broadness, depth, and long-term perspectives in the deliberations of policy makers. There is thus enough in common, perhaps even enough to elaborate a set of principles — a 'platform' — for Deep Ecology, as George Sessions and I have attempted (see Box, page 130).1 The principles we elaborate are discussed below.

Deep Ecologists or Mystics?

Grover Foley (page 119) seems to have a strong impression that such a platform would embrace mysticism — "The self and ultimate reality are one, as Zen and other mystic traditions claim: 'That thou art; or thou art That. '"But a firm supporter of Deep Ecology might not feel at home with any of the famous epithets of the great traditions of philosophical and religious mysticism. I doubt, for instance, whether F. Golley, or M . Soule, or I , would.2

A representative of the harassed, nomadic Sami people of Arctic Norway was arrested and asked by the police why he insisted on remaining by a river that was to be dammed. He answered: "I t is part of myself." He certainly did not say that the geographically defined flowing water was part of his Ego. Nor did he quote any Buddhist texts. Social psychologists may interpret his statement within the framework of the idea of the 'social self, as brilliantly put forward by William James. But there are other possibilities. Personally, I work with the concept of 'Self-

realisation', as expressed in my so-called 'Ecosophy T' , inspired by, but not conforming to, Gandhi's interpretation of the Bhagavadgita? But, of course, I am not in any way a Hindu, and I respect the Buddhist anatmavada as a reaction against Hindu atman-absolutism. None of us are mystics.

When Gary Snyder, a firm supporter of the Deep Ecology movement, writes, as a Buddhist, that "The universe and all creatures in it are intrinsically in a state of complete wisdom, love and compassion,"4

do I have to ask what he means? Of course not, and he does not ask what I mean when I write in a language inspired by Spinoza that "The more you understand particular beings the more you understand God or Nature."5 Incidentally, such a proposition is incompatible with some views within the traditions of mysticism.

Grover Foley writes that "Life has no separate selves . . .", in order to express what he sees as a tenet of Deep Ecology. Supposing that we take the term 'separate' in a special sense, I think some supporters of Deep Ecology would support the statement. Personally, I find Foley's statement, "Fundamentally, all life is one" — not palatable to Sir Alfred Ayer—significant, but what it means to me may also be expressed as follows: "There is something of overwhelming dignity and importance common to each living being which secures its intrinsic value."

In short, I hope somehow to save both the wholes and the successive complexity which culminates in a supreme whole, and each individual. No philosophy or religion has, in my view, accomplished this in an articulated way that is not open to serious counter-argument. Supporters of Deep

TheEcologist, Vol. 18, Nos.4/5,1988 Ecology cannot expect to feel at home with ultimate views. The expectation involves, strictly speaking, a contradiction.

Deep Ecology and Nuclear War

Every year, the European nuclear disarmament movement must fight off attempts to widen i t by making unilateral disarmament only part of its platform, and so far, I am glad to say, the fight has been successful. This I say inspite of being very favourable myself to unilateral disarmament.6

Similarly, i t is important that any platform of Deep Ecology should not pretend that it can provide a solution to every great contemporary problem. In 1975, peace movements and ecology movements were not interacting strongly. Today, there is lively communication between them. Wars and preparations for modern wars are ecological disasters. I do not think it accurate today, therefore, to say, as Grover Foley says, that "Deep Ecology ignores nuclear war." And I do not think that war should be mentioned in a 200-word formulation of a platform for the movement.

Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises

Skolimowski argues that too many Ecophilosophies "have been too hurriedly subsumed under the umbrella of Deep Ecology." This would be a valid criticism i f the various philosophies were in competition with each other and were claiming to be the only 'correct' Deep Ecological position. But they are not. To take an analogy: there are many mother languages in the world — but none is more 'correct' than any other. In spite of this, groups with different mother tongues may agree in important ways. What supporters of the Deep Ecology movement have (more or less) in common at a fairly general and abstract level, must not be sought at the level of ultimate premises of a given philosophy, or, more succinctly, at the level of the 'total view', but rather at a secondary level, where their is agreement on the relationship between man and nature.

Nonetheless, a characteristic of the supporters of Deep Ecology is their involvement at every level, not only at that of ultimate premises, but also at the level of action and decision-making. In the 'shallow' movement, reference to ultimate foundations are rare and mostly shunned. Instead the arguments are mainly 'practi-

TheEcologist, Vol. 18, Nos.4/5,1988

Social and political work must go hand in hand with work in

nature for nature.

cal', 'tough', 'pragmatic', and 'objective'. By contrast, the Deep Ecology movement has an intensely emotional component. As Charlene Spretnak puts it:

"Deep Ecologists write that the well-being and flourishing human and non-human life on Earth has value in itself and that humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of life forms except to satisfy vital human needs. Ecofeminists agree, but wonder how much one' s concept of' vital needs' is shaped by the values of patriarchal culture. Finally, some philosophical ecologists favour abstract schemes such as 'ecological process analysis' to explain the natural world. But eco-feminists find such approaches alone to be sterile and inadequate, a veiled attempt, yet again, to distance oneself from wonder and awe, from the emotional involvement and caring that the natural world calls forth."7

Some may undertake process analysis without losing their emotional engagement, others may not. More than 2,500 years of literature and poetry have expressed wonder and awe in a direct way that eco-philosophy or a Deep Ecology platform cannot, and may be should not, try to imitate.

Agreeing to Differ

Henryk Skolimowski writes in his book Eco-Philosophy that "Values unrelated to ultimate ends of human life ring hollow". I wholeheartedly subscribe to this view, and presume that supporters of Deep Ecology have such ends in view. But I do not need a concept of Deep Ecology such that a definite set of ends are prescribed as part of a Deep Ecology platform. Henryk Skolimowski seems to me to regret that the term 'Deep Ecology' has not been attached to evolutionary, philosophical and theological views which I would regard as part of the ultimate premises (or Level 1) of a given philosophy.

Indeed, I think it would serve Skolimowski best to leave the concepts of Deep Ecology as they are, and then advocate his ideas about the ultimate ends of life as ideas which transcend the views that supporters of the Deep Ecology movement have in common. Skolimoswki writes:

"Any large-scale movement which

attempts to replace empiricism must find an antidote to the gospel of material progress, must be capable of creating a new foundation for meaning. When we look deeper into the question, we realize that unless deeper questions of human destiny are considered and answered, our quest for meaning cannot be truly satisfied." I admit that questions of human destiny are deep and that eschatological questions — by definition — are the deepest, in the sense of 'the last and ultimate'. But the function of Deep Ecology is more modest — for instance, keeping together, within a limited frame of reference, a community in desperate conflict with gigantic forces. Every member of the community may not have the same answers to questions of human destiny.

Before proposing a tentative platform for Deep Ecology, let me touch upon the issue of philosophical pluralism — or pluralism of Welt und Lebensanschauung, to use the German expression. It would, in my view, be a cultural disaster for mankind i f one philosophy or one religion were to become established on earth. It would be a disaster i f future Green societies were so similar that they blocked the development of deep cultural differences.

Insofar as supporters of Deep Ecology agree on this, they take care not only to find points of agreement but also to accept those differences which are inevitable i f the richness and diversity of life on earth is to flourish.

A Platform for Deep Ecology As mentioned above, George Sessions and I have formulated what we refer to as "the special platform of the Deep Ecology Movement." Inevitably, this platform (see Box, page 130) needs a number of comments. Its main object is to draw attention to the broad measure of agreement today among groups all over the world on a wide range of issues. The knowledge of such agreement encourages people and groups who work locally, often surrounded by a majority who are passive or lukewarm to the issues. Such local groups and individuals should know that they have friends all over the world, who have strong basic feelings in common, who use closely similar metaphors to express their views, and who adhere to the principles of non-violence even during severe confrontations.

Of the eight points we outline, (1), (2) and (6) hang together closely. I f conservation efforts are to aim not only at avoiding further extinction of species (a colossal