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Deep Ecology and the Human-Nature Relationship: A Brief Study of Arne Naess’s Philosophy

Abstract: This brief article delves into the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, with emphasis on his contribution to the development of Deep Ecology as a philosophical approach to understanding the human-nature relationship. By outlining Naess’s philosophical journey, the central principles of Deep Ecology, and the subsequent impact on contemporary environmental ethics, this article aims to highlight the enduring importance of Naess’s work in environmental philosophy.


Arne Dekke Eide Naess (1912-2009) was a Norwegian philosopher who played a pivotal role in shaping the field of environmental ethics and developing the philosophical approach known as Deep Ecology [1]. Naess’s work emphasized the need for a more profound and intrinsic connection between humans and nature, calling for a radical shift in how we view our relationship with the natural world [2]. This artice will examine Naess’s contributions to Deep Ecology, explore the central principles of this philosophical approach, and evaluate its impact on contemporary environmental ethics.

Naess’s Philosophical Journey

Arne Naess began his career as a philosopher with a focus on phenomenology and existentialism, being heavily influenced by the works of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre [3]. However, his interest in environmental issues and outdoor activities led him to explore the human-nature relationship more deeply. Naess’s journey towards developing Deep Ecology started in the 1960s when he became increasingly concerned about the growing environmental crisis [4]. He began to question the anthropocentric view of nature and its consequences, such as deforestation, pollution, and species extinction [5]. This questioning led him to formulate the philosophical approach of Deep Ecology, which sought to address the root causes of the environmental crisis by reconsidering the human-nature relationship [6].

Central Principles of Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology, as proposed by Naess, is based on two core principles: the principle of ecological self-realization and the principle of biocentric egalitarianism [7].

  1. Ecological Self-realization: Naess believed that the key to solving the environmental crisis lies in a shift in human consciousness, from an anthropocentric worldview to a more ecocentric one. He argued that humans need to recognize their interdependence with the natural world and develop an expanded sense of self, which he referred to as the “ecological self” [8]. The ecological self is characterized by the understanding that the human identity is not separate from nature but intrinsically interconnected with it, thus fostering a sense of responsibility and care for the environment [9].
  2. Biocentric Egalitarianism: The second core principle of Deep Ecology is the belief in the intrinsic value of all living beings, irrespective of their utility to humans. Naess proposed that every life form, from the smallest microorganism to the largest mammal, has an inherent right to exist and flourish [10]. This principle challenges the anthropocentric view that places humans at the center of the moral universe and assigns value to other beings based on their usefulness to us. Instead, Naess’s biocentric egalitarianism posits that all living beings have equal moral consideration and deserve protection [11].

Impact on Contemporary Environmental Ethics

Naess’s work on Deep Ecology has had a profound influence on contemporary environmental ethics, inspiring a generation of scholars and activists to reconsider the human-nature relationship [12]. His ideas have spurred the development of various branches of environmental ethics, such as ecofeminism, social ecology, and conservation biology [13]. Moreover, Deep Ecology has contributed to the emergence of global environmental movements, like Earth First! and the Green Party, that advocate for radical changes in our treatment of the natural world [14].

  1. Ecofeminism: Naess’s Deep Ecology has inspired ecofeminist thinkers like Vandana Shiva and Carolyn Merchant, who argue that the domination and exploitation of nature are linked to the oppression of women [15]. By highlighting the interconnectedness of all life forms, Deep Ecology has provided a foundation for ecofeminists to explore the interplay between gender, social justice, and environmental issues [16].
  2. Social Ecology: Social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin and John Clark have also been influenced by Naess’s work, emphasizing the need to address social inequalities and power structures as essential components of environmental ethics [17]. While social ecology differs from Deep Ecology in its focus on the societal factors contributing to environmental problems, both approaches share a common ground in challenging anthropocentrism and advocating for a more profound human-nature relationship [18].
  3. Conservation Biology: Deep Ecology has also left its mark on the field of conservation biology, which aims to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems through the integration of ecological, social, and ethical considerations [19]. Naess’s biocentric egalitarianism has inspired conservation biologists to adopt a more inclusive approach to conservation, recognizing the intrinsic value of all species and their interconnectedness within ecosystems [20].

Critiques and Limitations

While Naess’s work on Deep Ecology has had a significant impact on environmental ethics, it has not been without its critics. Some argue that the concept of ecological self-realization is too vague and lacks clear guidelines for practical implementation [21]. Others contend that Deep Ecology’s focus on the intrinsic value of all living beings can lead to moral paralysis, as it is often difficult to make decisions that protect every individual organism without causing harm to others [22]. Additionally, some critics assert that Deep Ecology is overly radical and fails to acknowledge the potential benefits of technological innovations and human intervention in addressing environmental problems [23].Conclusion


Arne Naess’s contributions to the development of Deep Ecology have had a lasting impact on the field of environmental ethics and the broader environmental movement. By challenging anthropocentrism and advocating for a more profound human-nature relationship, Naess has inspired a new generation of thinkers and activists to reconsider our relationship with the natural world. Although Deep Ecology faces critiques and limitations, it remains a significant philosophical approach that calls for a radical transformation in our understanding of and engagement with the environment. By continuing to explore the ideas and principles put forth by Naess, we may be better equipped to address the pressing environmental challenges of our time.


[1] Drengson, A., & Devall, B. (2010). The ecology of wisdom: writings by Arne Naess. Counterpoint.

[2] Naess, A. (1973). The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement. A summary. Inquiry, 16(1-4), 95-100.

[3] Zimmerman, M. E. (1989). Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity: Technology, politics, and art. Indiana University Press.

[4] Seed, J., Macy, J., Fleming, P., & Naess, A. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: Towards a council of all beings. New Society Publishers.

[5] Naess, A. (1989). Ecology, community and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy. Cambridge University Press.

[6] Drengson, A., & Inoue, Y. (1995). The deep ecology movement. North Atlantic Books.

[7] Naess, A. (1986). The deep ecological movement: Some philosophical aspects. Philosophical Inquiry, 8(1-2), 10-31.

[8] Naess, A. (1987). Self-realization: An ecological approach to being in the world. The Trumpeter, 4(3), 35-42.

[9] Fox, W. (1990). Toward a transpersonal ecology: Developing new foundations for environmentalism. Shambhala Publications.

[10] Naess, A. (1995). The deep ecology ‘eight points’ revisited. In G. Sessions (Ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century (pp. 213-221). Shambhala Publications.

[11] Devall, B., & Sessions, G. (1985). Deep ecology: Living as if nature mattered. Gibbs Smith.

[12] Witoszek, N., & Brennan, A. (Eds.). (1999). Philosophical dialogues: Arne Naess and the progress of ecophilosophy. Rowman & Littlefield.

[13] Brennan, A., & Lo, Y. S. (2016). Environmental Ethics. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition). Retrieved from

[14] Taylor, B. (2016). The green and the real: The deep ecology movement and postmodern identity. In A. Light & E. Katz (Eds.), Environmental pragmatism (pp. 173-194). Routledge.

[15] Shiva, V. (1989). Staying alive: Women, ecology, and development. Zed Books. [16] Merchant, C. (1992). Radical ecology: The search for a livable world. Routledge.

[17] Bookchin, M. (1982). The ecology of freedom: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy. Cheshire Books.

[18] Clark, J. (1990). A social ecology. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1(3), 29-52.

[19] Soule, M. E., & Wilcox, B. A. (1980). Conservation biology: An evolutionary-ecological perspective. Sinauer Associates.

[20] Noss, R. F. (1990). Indicators for monitoring biodiversity: A hierarchical approach. Conservation Biology, 4(4), 355-364.

[21] Sagoff, M. (1984). Some problems with environmental ethics. Environmental Ethics, 6(1), 55-74.

[22] Callicott, J. B. (1995). Intrinsic value in nature: A metaethical analysis. The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy, Retrieved from

[23] Light, A. (1996). Reel arguments: Film, philosophy, and social criticism. Westview Press.

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