Naess's Deep Ecology: Implications for the Human Prospect and Challenges for the Future

Inquiry 54 (1):52-77 (2011)
What sets Naess's deep ecology apart from most inquiries into environmental philosophy is that it does not seek a radical shift in fundamental values. Naess offered a utopian, life-affirming grand narrative, a new Weltanschauung that shifted the focus of inquiry to coupling values, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to behavior. The core of Naess's approach is that sustainability hinges on developing more thoroughly reasoned and consistent views, policies, and actions, which are tied back to wide-identifying ultimate norms and a rich, well-informed understanding of the state of the planet. But humans can have multiple ultimate norms and these norms sometimes conflict; our neurobiology may not be well-structured for accommodating consequences that are spatially and temporally separated and uncertain; we are governed by bounded rationality; much of human learning results from the passive modeling of unsustainable activities; and our cultures can be maladaptive, creating hurdles and perverse incentives/disincentives that likely demand more than consistent reasoning from wide-identifying ultimate premises. After keenly demonstrating how problem characterization and formulation shape both solution strategies and outcomes, Naess may conceptualize the process of change too narrowly. In the end, deep ecology helps us to shine a brighter searchlight on the gap between our attitudes and our generally unsustainable actions and policies. In doing so it expands the frontier of the unknown, opening more questions. This is its allure, frustration, and promise
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DOI 10.1080/0020174X.2011.542943
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Edward O. Wilson (1996). Naturalist. Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1):145-147.
Arne Naess (1966). Communication and Argument. [Totowa, N.J.]Bedminster Press.

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