Arne Næss


Arne naess

The Call of the Mountain, Arne Naess (click here for full film)

The Arne Naess Project is a bridging project of original research into an emerging area, combining key case studies and themes to shine a light on individuals whose work, or case studies of territories, that will benefit from a law of Ecocide.

Arne Dekke Eide Næss (born 27 January 1912 – died 12 January 2009) was a Norwegian philosopher who coined the term Deep Ecology and was an important intellectual and inspirational figure within the Environmental movement of the late twentieth century.

Næss averred that while western environmental groups of the early post-war period had raised public awareness of the environmental issues of the time they had largely failed to have insight into and address what he argued were the underlying cultural and philosophical background to these problems. Naess believed that the environmental crisis of the twentieth century had arisen due to certain unspoken philosophical presuppositions and attitudes within modern western developed societies which remained unacknowledged. He thereby distinguished between what he called deep and shallow ecological thinking. In contrast to the prevailing utilitarian pragmatism of western businesses and governments he advocated that a true understanding of nature would give rise to a point of view that appreciates the value of biological diversity understanding that each living thing is dependent on the existence of other creatures in the complex web of interrelationships that is the natural world.

Næss cited Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring as being a key influence in his vision of deep ecology. Næss combined his ecological vision with Gandhian nonviolence and on several occasions participated in direct action. In 1970, together with a large number of demonstrators, he chained himself to rocks in front of Mardalsfossen, a waterfall in a Norwegian fjord, and refused to descend until plans to build a dam were dropped. Though the demonstrators were carried away by police and the dam was eventually built, the demonstration launched a more activist phase of Norwegian environmentalism. In 1958, Arne Næss founded the interdisciplinary journal of philosophy Inquiry.

Næss had been a minor political candidate for the Norwegian Green Party and in 1939 he was the youngest person to be appointed full professor at the University of Oslo and the only professor of philosophy in the country at the time.

Næss was a noted mountaineer, who in 1950 led the expedition that made the first ascent of Tirich Mir (7,708 m). The Tvergastein hut in the Hallingskarvet massif played an important role in Ecosophy T, as “T” is said to represent his mountain hut Tvergastein.

In 1996, he won the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize, known as the ‘little Nobel’. In 2005 he was decorated as a Commander with Star of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for socially useful work. He was much loved.

A Naess

Some key texts:

Recommendations for public debate

Communication and Argument included his recommendations for objective public debate. Næss argued for adhering to the following rules to make discussions as fruitful and pleasant as possible:

  1. Avoid tendentious irrelevance
    Examples: Personal attacks, claims of opponents’ motivation, explaining reasons for an argument.
  2. Avoid tendentious quoting
    Quotes should not be edited regarding the subject of the debate.
  3. Avoid tendentious ambiguity
    Ambiguity can be exploited to support criticism.
  4. Avoid tendentious use of straw men
    Assigning views to the opponent that he or she does not hold.
  5. Avoid tendentious statements of fact
    Information put forward should never be untrue or incomplete, and one should not withhold relevant information.
  6. Avoid tendentious tone of presentation
    Examples: irony, sarcasm, pejoratives, exaggeration, subtle (or open) threats.

For many years these points were part of two compulsory courses in philosophy taught in Norwegian universities (“Examen philosophicum” and “Examen facultatum”).

Ecosophy T

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.

Although a very rich and complex philosophy, Næss’s 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.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. It is in this whole that our true ecological Self can be realized. Practically Self-realization for Næss means that, if one does not know how the outcomes of one’s actions will affect other beings, one should not act, similar to the liberal harm principle.

Some key books:

Arne Naess wrote some 30 books, both technical and popular, and hundreds of papers. His bestseller was Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper World.

Others include:

The Ecology of Wisdom

Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: an Outline of Ecosophy

See also Crossing the Stones, A Portrait of Arne Naess

About Martin Lee Mueller

Martin is a research fellow at the Centre for Development and the Environment in Oslo, with a background in literature and ecophilosophy. Among other things, he has previously worked as an outdoors teacher in the Norwegian woods and helped build learning centers in Mongolia, with BOOKBRIDGE. Besides writing, Martin enjoys painting, singing, cooking, and all things wild.

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