January 16th, 2009

Underground, Cuba

RIP Arne Naess

Working on my Somalia article for The Scene... got some great interviews today on that. Also should have a rough draft for my piece on Russian land reform up in the next hour or so... as many know, this year I'm writing a book on the history of private property theory. I've already made MANY notes and have skimmed through dozens of books. Hopefully rough draft chapters will be leaking out every week or so...


Arne Dekke Eide Næss (27 January 1912 – 13 January 2009) was the founder of deep ecology. He is widely regarded as the foremost Norwegian philosopher of the 20th century. His philosophical work focused on Spinoza, Buddhism and Gandhi. He was the youngest person to be appointed full professor at the University of Oslo.

Næss cited Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring as being a key influence in his vision of deep ecology. Næss also engaged 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, the demonstration was eventually a success.

In 1958, Arne Næss founded the interdiciplinary journal of philosophy Inquiry.

Næss has been a minor political candidate for the Norwegian Green Party.

Arne Næss' main philosophical work from the 1950s was entitled "Interpretation and Preciseness". This was an application of set theory to the problems of language interpretation, extending the work of such logicians as Leonhard Euler, and 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.

Næss developed a simplified, practical textbook embodying these advantages, entitled Communication and Argument, 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").

In the doctoral thesis "Erkenntnis und wissenschaftliches Verhalten" Næss gives a theoretical reasoning for the basic positivist idea that there exists only one understanding form of reality, the scientific, and that there is one form of science, the natural sciences. All form for understanding - traditional philosophy, religion - submits as "meta physics". In later writings, for example "Notes on the Foundation of Psychology as a Science" (1948), Næss goes into this position.

Since the 1960s he has been more attracted to the problematic sides of the positivist program about unified science and in "Pluralist and Possibiltist Aspect of the Scientific Enterprise" (1972) positivism is replaced with pluralism. The banner is no longer unified science, but "plurality of theory". At any time, and should, there be a numbers of competing and individually ununitable scientific theories, where any can be said to be compatible with "reality". While Næss previously perceived the "objective", positivist science as an important tool against the spread of totalitarian politic, which thought with the blood, this science has now become the ruling ideology.

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[5].

Although a very rich and complex philosophy, Næss' 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[6]. But this is not simple ego- or self-realization; it is the realization of the Self. 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.[7] It is in this whole that our true ecological Self can be realized. Practically Self-realization for Naess 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.