Deep Ecology – The Mislabeling of an Ontology

For nearly four decades Deep Ecology has featured prominently in Environmental Ethics as one of the key players in the movement to raise environmental consciousness and change the way people behave. But it has unfortunately been maligned as “just another holistic ecology” which seeks to make radical changes in the way humans and human culture interact with the natural environment. It has been tarred as being closely aligned with the non-anthropocentric ethics of nature which opened it to a series of “broadsides” from Murray Bookchin (1988) in the late 1980’s which left the movement intellectually crippled. But the attacks launched by Bookchin center on holistic ethics and non-anthropocentrism of which Deep Ecology as it was originally conceived cites neither as being doctrinal to Deep Ecological thought (Naess 1973). At its core Deep Ecology represents a conscious feedback loop of ideas which are derived from multiple sources, (for Naess this included Buddhist, Christian and Secular philosophies) to arrive at the “eight-point platform” published in 1984 by Naess and Sessions. It is from these 8 points that ethics and indeed many kinds of ethics (including holistic ethics or ecocentrism) has been derived offering and range of practical decisions and rules to be applied in particular situations. At its core Deep Ecology is then an Ontological platform for considering environmental concerns rather than a prescriptive ethic, aimed at providing the tools necessary to ground our understanding of a problem for which our existing moral and ethical systems are ill equipped to handle. In theory Deep Ecology demands a constant flow of Logical Derivation of ideas and values and continued questioning of the very same logical derivations based on the consequences of those ideas.


The feed in to the eight point platform has also cause some concern since it has failed to provide robust foundations for the eight points, and while Naess and Sessions intended these points to be vague, open to interpretation and revision, they became a kind of accepted world view of Deep Ecology, along with the ethical structures of logically derived by a range of authors on the topic including but certainly not exclusively Warwick Fox (1984) who was central in the formulation of “Trans-human Ecology” which broadly speaking ties Deep Ecological thought with his holistic ecocentred ethics. But this definition of level three in Deep Ecology thought as fundamentally ethical and non-anthropocentric ethical at that created a divide that could not been bridged between Holistic Ethics (level 3 of the apron) and Practical Rules of decisions regarding environmental action (level 4 of the apron). But normative judgement and factual hypothesis have many different connotations in philosophical circles. Aesthetics for example is of central consideration here as has been touched on multiple times in previous posts. Aesthetics as far as Deep Ecology goes is the only thing that provides a “feed in” to the eight points and “normative consequences” that result from aesthetic judgement. Which in turn can have significant impact of the rules and decisions that we adopt as a society. I will begin exploring the eight points themselves in far more detail in the coming weeks, but for now it is important to reflect on these principles and consider that this is considered the “nature” or “ontology” of Deep Ecology, well before we consider the ethical consequences of this kind of worldview. It is well worth taking some time to familiarize oneself with these principles as realize that they are not the radical impractical fantasies that are unattainable but instead represent the kind of tough but necessary principles need to address our impact on the world around us.

“I’m not much interested in ethics or morals, I’m interested in how we experience the world…” (Naess 1995).

“The search… is not for environmental ethics but for ecological consciousness” (Sessions 1995).


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