Arne Næss

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Arne Næss
Arne Næss 2003.jpg
Arne Næss in 2003
Arne Dekke Eide Næss

(1912-01-27)27 January 1912
Died12 January 2009(2009-01-12) (aged 96)
Oslo, Norway[3]
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolEnvironmental philosophy
Main interests
Environmental philosophy, environmental ethics
Notable ideas
Deep ecology, ecosophy

Arne Dekke Eide Næss (Urban East Norwegian: [ˈɑ̂ːɳə ˈdɛ̂kːə ˈæ̂ɪdə ˈnɛsː]; 27 January 1912 – 12 January 2009) was a Norwegian philosopher who coined the term "deep ecology", an important intellectual and inspirational figure within the environmental movement of the late twentieth century, and a prolific writer on many other philosophical issues.[7] 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.

Næss averred that while western environmental groups of the early post–World War II 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. Næss 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.[8]

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.[8]

Life and career[edit]

Næss was born in Slemdal, Oslo, Norway, the son of Christine (Dekke) and Ragnar Eide Næss.[9] Ragnar was a successful banker, and Arne was the younger brother of shipowner Erling Dekke Næss.[10] Næss had two children with his first wife Else and was the uncle of mountaineer and businessman Arne Næss Jr. (1937–2004).[1]

In 1939, Næss 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.[11]

He was a noted mountaineer, who in 1950 led the expedition that made the first ascent of Tirich Mir (7,708 metres or 25,289 feet) in Pakistan,[12] depicted in the documentary film Tirich Mir til topps. The Tvergastein hut in the Hallingskarvet massif played an important role in the name of Næss's philosophy, "Ecosophy T", as "T" is said to represent his mountain hut Tvergastein.[12][13]

In 1958, he founded the interdisciplinary journal of philosophy Inquiry.[12]

Næss campaigning for the Norwegian Green party in 2003

In 1970, together with a large number of protesters, 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.[1] Though the demonstrators were carried away by police and the dam was eventually built, the demonstration launched a more activist phase of Norwegian environmentalism.[1][14]

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. Næss was a minor political candidate for the Norwegian Green Party in 2005.[15]


Næss's book Erkenntnis und wissenschaftliches Verhalten (1936) anticipated many themes familiar in post-war analytic philosophy.[16]

In the 21st century, Næss came to be recognized by newer generations of philosophers as a pioneer of experimental philosophy (a term that Næss himself used) for his empirical semantics research.[17][18][19][20] One of Næss's early publications on experimental philosophy was "Truth" as Conceived by Those Who Are Not Professional Philosophers (1938).[21]

Næss's main philosophical work from the 1950s was entitled Interpretation and Preciseness (1953).[22] This was an application of set theory to the problems of language interpretation, extending the work of 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). The advantages of this conceptualisation of interpretation are various. It enables systematic demonstration of possible interpretation, making possible evaluation of which are the more and less "reasonable interpretations". It is a logical instrument for demonstrating language vagueness, undue generalisation, conflation, pseudo-agreement and effective communication.[23]

Næss developed a simplified, practical textbook embodying these advantages, entitled Communication and Argument: Elements of Applied Semantics (1966),[24] which became a valued introduction to this pragmatics or "language logic", and was used over many decades as a sine qua non for the preparatory examination at the University of Oslo, later known as examen philosophicum ("exphil").[25][26]

Recommendations for public debate[edit]

Næss's book Communication and Argument (1966) included his recommendations for objective public debate.[27] Næss argued for adhering to the following principles to make discussions as fruitful and pleasant as possible:[27][12]

  1. "Avoid tendentious references to side issues"—distractions such as personal attacks, claims about opponents' motivation, or irrelevant explanations or arguments.
  2. "Avoid tendentious renderings of other people's views"—editing quotes or paraphrasing in a biased or misleading way (for example, quoting out of context).
  3. "Avoid tendentious ambiguity"—deliberately offering ambiguous statements instead of more precise ones (equivocation).
  4. "Avoid tendentious argument from alleged implication"—assigning views to opponents that they do not hold (straw men).
  5. "Avoid tendentious firsthand reports"—information that is untrue or incomplete, withholding relevant information (for example, lying by omission).
  6. "Avoid tendentious use of contexts"—presenting material with extra accessories of persuasion and suggestion such as visual or aural appeals to emotion of irony, sarcasm, insult, exaggeration, or subtle (or open) threat.

For many years these points were part of a compulsory course in philosophy (examen philosophicum) taught in Norwegian universities.[25][26]

Argumentation theorist Erik Krabbe later said that Næss's principles for effective discussion were precursors of the rules for critical discussion in pragma-dialectics.[12]

Ecosophy T[edit]

Ecosophy T, as distinct from deep ecology, was originally the name of Næss's 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.[28][page needed]

Næss's ecosophy can be summed up as self-realization. According to Næss, every being, whether human, animal or vegetable, has an equal right to live and to blossom.[29] Næss states that through self-realization humans can become part of the ecosystems of Earth, in distinction to becoming only themselves.[further explanation needed] According to one writer, Næss defined the ethical consequences of self-realization as: If one does not know how the outcomes of one's actions will affect other beings, one should not act.[30]

In an article that summarized Næss's career, Nina Witoszek noted that he qualified his most radical propositions using the rhetorical term "in principle", and he pragmatically recognized that, in Witoszek's words, "concessions are unavoidable; dogmas are ductile; and practice diverges from principle".[31]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Schwarz, Walter (15 January 2009). "Arne Næss". The Guardian. London. Obituary.
  2. ^ Grimes, William (15 January 2009). "Arne Naess, Norwegian Philosopher, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Obituary.
  3. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (16 January 2009). "Philosopher Developed 'Deep Ecology' Phrase". Washington Post. Obituary.
  4. ^ Næss 1989, p. 10.
  5. ^ a b Charlton, Noel G. "Deep Ecology". Archived from the original on 20 May 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
  6. ^ Næss, Arne (1997). "Heidegger, postmodern theory and deep ecology". The Trumpeter. 14 (4): 1–7.
  7. ^ Krabbe, Erik C. (2010). "Arne Næss (1912–2009)". Argumentation. 24 (4): 527–530. doi:10.1007/s10503-010-9188-1. ProQuest 775562345.
  8. ^ a b Luke, Timothy W. (June 2002). "Deep ecology: Living as if nature mattered". Organization & Environment. 15 (2): 178–186. doi:10.1177/10826602015002005. S2CID 145359287.
  9. ^ "Arne Dekke Eide Næss/Else Marie Hertzberg". Archived from the original on 17 March 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  10. ^ Anonymous (27 January 2009). "Philosopher and Mountaineer". The Gazette (Montreal, QC). p. B7. Arne Dekke Eide Naess was born on January 27 1912, the son of Ragnar Naess, a successful banker. His father died prematurely within a year of Arne's birth. The family home was at Vettakollen near Oslo, and there the young Arne was brought up by his mother and elder brother Erling, who later became a major shipowner.
  11. ^ Krabbe 2010, p. 527.
  12. ^ a b c d e Krabbe 2010, p. 529.
  13. ^ Næss 1989, p. 4.
  14. ^ Seed, John; Macy, Joanna; Fleming, Pat; Næss, Arne (1988). Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers. p. 119. ISBN 0865711321. OCLC 18611536.
  15. ^ Statistics Norway (2005). "Storting Election 2005. Official electoral lists, by county". Storting Election 2005. Archived from the original on 2 July 2007. Retrieved 17 April 2007.
  16. ^ Hannay, Alastair (1995). "Norwegian Philosophy". In Honderich, Ted (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1st ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 627. ISBN 0-19-866132-0. OCLC 31239158.
  17. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (November 2008). "Experimental philosophy" (PDF). Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. 82 (2): 7–22. JSTOR 27654052.
  18. ^ Plakias, Alexandra (February 2015). "Experimental philosophy". Oxford Handbooks Online. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935314.013.17.
  19. ^ Murphy, Taylor Shaw (2014). "Experimental philosophy, 1935–1965". In Knobe, Joshua; Lombrozo, Tania; Nichols, Shaun (eds.). Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy. Vol. 1. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 325–368. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718765.003.0013. ISBN 9780198718772. OCLC 898058805.
  20. ^ Chapman, Siobhan (September 2018). "The experimental and the empirical: Arne Naess' statistical approach to philosophy". British Journal for the History of Philosophy. 26 (5): 961–981. doi:10.1080/09608788.2017.1336075. S2CID 148886287.
  21. ^ Næss 1938.
  22. ^ Næss 1953.
  23. ^ Eriksson, Darek (2007). "Phenomeno-semantic complexity: A proposal for an alternative notion of complexity as a foundation for the management of complexity in human affairs". Emergence: Complexity and Organization. 9 (1): 11–21. ISSN 1521-3250.
  24. ^ Næss 1966.
  25. ^ a b Krabbe 2010, p. 528.
  26. ^ a b Malkomsen, Olav Langhammer (May 2011). Universitetet – en institusjon for dannelse?: En sammenlignende studie av studieopplegg ved et norsk og amerikansk universitet [The university – an institution for education?: A comparative study of study programs at a Norwegian and American university] (Masters thesis) (in Norwegian). Oslo: Department of Sociology and Social Geography, University of Oslo. pp. 37–41. OCLC 746999057.
  27. ^ a b Næss 1966, pp. 121–135.
  28. ^ Bookchin, Murray; Purchase, Graham; Morris, Brian; Aitchtey, Rodney; Hart, Robert; Wilbert, Chris (1993). Deep Ecology & Anarchism: A Polemic. London: Freedom Press. ISBN 0900384670. OCLC 28182962.
  29. ^ Næss 1989, pp. 164–65.
  30. ^ Luke, Timothy (June 2002). "Deep ecology: Living as if nature mattered". Organization and Environment. 15 (2): 178–186. doi:10.1177/10826602015002005. S2CID 145359287.
  31. ^ Witoszek, Nina (February 2010). "The death of the philosopher king and the crisis of our time". Environmental Values. 19 (1): 1–6 (3). doi:10.3197/096327110X485356. JSTOR 30302328.

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