Arne Naess Essay

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Arne Naess , known as the father of deep ecology, is a Norwegian ecophilosopher, naturalist, environmental activist, and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the founder of Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy and the Social Sciences and the author of more than 30 books. Deep ecology, the movement Naess is credited with founding, critiques mainstream environmentalism and proposes a set of new metaphysical, ecological, spiritual, and sociopolitical alternatives.

Naess’s conference paper “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement,” given in Bucharest in 1972, was the first recognized formulation of the principles of deep ecology. This paper rejected the idea of the separation of humans and nature in favor of a “relational, total field” image of nature based on “biospherical egalitarianism” in which all ecological beings have an equal right to exist. Naess’s work also contrasted his vision of deep ecology with the contemporary or “shallow” environmental movements of the 1970s and 1980s, which he accused of being concerned only with superficial institutional fixes for pollution and resource depletion for the benefit of affluent sectors of society in developed countries, and of thus being anthropocentric.

Other elements of Naess’s deep ecology include the principles of diversity and symbiosis, an anticlass posture, the fight against pollution and resource depletion, complexity in place of complication, and local autonomy and decentralization. Sources and spiritual inspiration for deep ecology philosophy are found in Eastern spiritual traditions, Native American traditional religions, Ghandian nonviolence, and selected thinkers from Western religion, philosophy, and art. Deep ecology is a normative value system based on personal change and the transformation of values and understanding toward an alternative way of thinking about the relationships between individuals, society, and nature.

Naess’s 1989 theory, Ecosophy-T, his own personal application of the principles of deep ecology and ecological wisdom, involves the achievement of ecological harmony or equilibrium through a fundamental principle of self-realization, or the placement of self as part of nature through the eradication of boundaries between human and ecosystem activities. Naess developed a four-level system to represent his deep ecology framework that is depicted in what he calls the apron diagram. Level one encompasses a broad set of philosophical and religious principles such as Buddhism, Christianity, or other sets of norms that influence action and that inform the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform outlined in level two of the apron. These principles, or discussion points, were developed in collaboration with George Sessions, another key deep ecology thinker, and are broadly seen as the unifying features of the deep ecology movement. Combining philosophical ideas with action, the platform’s third level expresses the general consequences of the principles in society. Level four expresses the concrete decisions made by individuals in particular situations.

While Naess and extensions of deep ecology philosophy have been criticized as being biocentric and even misanthropic, the anticlass and self-questioning posture within deep ecology seeks to transform human-to-human relationships as well as those between humans and nature. Along the same vein, the stance against pollution and resource depletion is a normative stance based on the idea that all beings-humans included-must be able to satisfy vital needs through the preservation of the diversity of all life forms.


  1. Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Peregrine Smith, 1985);
  2. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue, , The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology (North Atlantic Publishers, 1995);
  3. Eric Katz, Andrew Light, and David Rothenberg, , Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology (MIT Press, 2000);
  4. Arne Naess, “The Shallow and the Deep, LongRange Ecology A Summary,” Inquiry (v.16, 1973);
  5. Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1989);
  6. The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Volumes 1-10 (Springer, 2005).

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