Arne Næss

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Arne Næss (2003, right)

Arne Dekke Eide Næss (born January 27, 1912 in Slemdal near Oslo ; † January 12, 2009 ) was a Norwegian philosopher who, through his textbooks in logic , methodology and the history of philosophy , contributed to making philosophy a key position in the academic and intellectual life in Norway the post-war period. He is counted among the founders of deep ecology and the so-called Oslo School .

Arne Næss has taught in Bali , Beijing , Berkeley , Bucharest , Canton , Chengdu , Devon , Dubrovnik , Hangzhou , Helsinki , Hong Kong , Japan , Jerusalem , London , Melbourne , Reykjavík , Santa Cruz , Taiwan , Tromsø , Vancouver and Warsaw .


Arne Næss was one of the youngest Masters in Norway at the age of 21 . Three years later he received his doctorate in philosophy with the thesis Knowledge and Scientific Behavior . In 1939, at the age of 27, he was employed as a professor at the University of Oslo , which he remained until 1970.

Arne Næss was particularly involved in the peace movement from 1940–1955 . In 1948/49 he headed a UNESCO project on the East-West conflict in Paris .
The philosopher also had a name as a mountaineer and, in 1950, took part in the first ascent of Tirich Mir in the Hindu Kush.
In Europe, Næss was known as a supporter of “green politics”. Since 1970 he has been involved in "The Deep Ecology Movement". As the founder of deep ecology, Næss was made an honorary member of the Environment and Green Party of Norway ( Miljøpartiet De Grønne ) in 1997, which he not only supports there with his deep ecological approaches, but also a. also helped shape in Taiwan and Chile . Since the party was founded in 1987, he has had a place of honor on the party's electoral lists for local and parliamentary elections.

In the years before his death, Arne Næss was busy conveying his philosophy to people, including through several book editions in collaboration with Inga Bostad. In 2005 Næss was named "Commanders with a Star" ("Kommandør med stjerne") of the Royal Order of Saint Olav because of his social service commitment . According to his own admission, he mostly still felt like a child and often expressed that he considered it important not to lose contact with the child within himself.


As a philosopher, Arne Næss belonged to the neo-positivist tradition, both as its speaker and as its critic. Neopositivism or logical empiricism was initially formed as a theoretical program of the interwar period by the so-called Vienna Circle , with whom Næss had contact during his stay in Vienna in the mid-1930s. In its variant, neopositivism was given a shape based partly on the philosophy of science and partly also on the philosophy of language.

In his doctoral thesis Knowledge and Scientific Behavior from 1936 Næss tried to formulate a theoretical justification for the positivist basic idea that there is only one form of knowledge of reality , namely scientific, and that there is only one form of knowledge creation, namely scientific. He rejected all other forms of knowledge, traditional philosophy, art or religion as metaphysics . In later writings, including Notes on the Foundation of Psychology as a Science from 1948, Næss elaborated on this position.

From the 1960s onwards he became more and more interested in the problematic sides of the positivist program on "unified sciences". In his 1972 work Pluralist and Possibilist Aspect of the Scientific Enterprise , positivism was finally replaced by pluralism . The watchword was no longer “unified science” but “theory diversity”. At any time, there can and should be a number of competing and mutually incompatible scientific theories that can be said to be in agreement with "reality". While Næss used to regard objective and positivist science as an important tool against the spread of totalitarian politics, in his view this science has now also become part of the ruling ideology .

Philosophy of Language - The Empirical Semantics

Arne Næss' philosophy of language, Die empirische Semantik , was presented as early as 1938 in the study Truth as conceived by those who are not Professional Philosophers . This was an attempt to solve the traditional philosophical problem of truth by examining what people mean by the term "truth". His main work on the philosophy of language is Interpretation and Precision from 1953, whose interpretation and precisification theory in the published edition En del elementære logiske emner (German title: Communication and Argumentation ) became compulsory for students who take the basic examinations in philosophy at Norwegian universities prepared. As a result, Næss' empirical semantics had a great influence on intellectual thinking in post-war Norway, but it had far less philosophical significance than his theoretical studies.

Arne Næss' norms for a factual discussion

Arne Næss' elaboration of six norms for a factual discussion is of particular importance. These norms were incorporated into philosophy lessons and will be presented below. (The translation was done by Armin von Stechow, who translated the book En del elementære logiske emner into the German version Kommunikation und Argumentation .)

Six norms for a factual discussion

A. Against tendentious trash talk

Initial formulation: Stick to the matter. This norm is violated if: (1) A contribution, viewed as an argument, has too little relevance, or, viewed as an isolated assertion, is not tenable enough to support a point of view on the topic of the discussion or could weaken. (2) The contribution is not suitable to clear up misunderstandings. (3) The contribution is suitable to influence the listener or reader in such a way that they lean more towards the one party of the discussants, so the contribution has a tendency. Examples for the violation of this norm: personality characteristics, claims about the motives of the counterpart, explanations of causes as arguments.

B. Against tendentious reproduction

Starting wording: A wording that is intended to express a point of view in a serious discussion must be neutral with respect to any point of contention. The word "reproduction" indicates that positions are already available in advance. The standard therefore does not apply to the first elaboration of a position. It is particularly important when it comes to formulating the points of view of our opponents.

C. Against tendentious ambiguities

Initial formulation: A contribution to the discussion should not have any ambiguities of a kind that could give the audience or readers false ideas about what the discussants are prepared to answer for. Ambiguities lead to arguments being adapted to the criticism.

D. Against the building of bogeymen

Initial formulation: Do not imply any points of view that the opponent does not advocate. In other words, there is no content to be added to the other person's point of view for which they are not responsible. The violation of this norm consists in the fact that the representation of the other person's point of view deviates from the original in a tendentious manner.

E. Against tendentious original representations

Initial formulation: A presentation, report or theory should avoid giving the listener or reader a skewed image that serves the interests of one party at the expense of the other. This means that information that is presented must not be untrue and incomplete and / or no relevant information must be withheld. This norm is related to norm B.

F. Against tendentious preparation of contributions to the discussion

Initial formulation: The context or external circumstances that have nothing to do with the matter should be kept neutral. An utterance in a serious discussion is a violation of this norm if the context of the utterance or the external situation has the property of strengthening the influence of one party without these influences being attributable to the argumentative content of the utterances. Examples of violations of this norm: irony, sarcasm, swear words, exaggerations and threats.

Source: Arne D. Næss: Communication and Argumentation. An introduction to applied semantics. Script-Verlag, Kronberg 1975.

Deep Ecology - The deep ecology

Arne Næss coined the term Deep Ecology (dt. Deep Ecology ) in a 1973 article published entitled The Shallow and the Deep. Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary . In this vision we all perceive the environment as a part of ourselves and in no way regard it as antagonists of humanity.

In a 1999 interview, he formulated his personal definition of "Deep Ecology" as follows:

Deep ecology - I could also call it “green” - the Green Movement is a movement in which one does not only do good for the planet in the interest of people, but also in the interest of the planet itself. That means, one regards the globe as a unit and talking about the individual ecosystems, trying to keep them alive as a value in itself. That is, in their own interest, how to do things for their own children or their own dog, without thinking of the dog as a means for their own enjoyment.
Deep ecology starts from the philosophical or religious point of view that says that all living beings are valuable and therefore need protection from destruction by billions of people. That is one of the fundamental points. On the other hand, I would say that deep ecology or the green movement is a movement of activists or means being active in the midst of one's circle of friends and in one's own workplace. And, if you have time, to take part in demonstrations. One should try not to break any laws, but if it is absolutely necessary and if everything so far has remained without result, then we must do that too. The result is a holistic approach, that is, a consideration of nature and the relationship between mankind and nature, which combines a fundamental attitude and joy in nature with behavior in society for nature.

Many personalities have thought about this approach.

Thomas Berry, for example, interprets deep ecology in his essay The Viable Human as follows: Deep ecologists stand for putting human use of natural resources under control, unless it is used to satisfy vital needs. The cultivation of grain by an African tribe in order to ensure their survival is such a need, but not the conversion of a swamp into an exclusive golf course.
It is obvious that, from this point of view, a large part of the mining , harvesting and general development of our technological age do not meet the requirements of the principle of the satisfaction of vital needs. Rather than dealing with increasing automobile production or building highways, roads and parking lots, these ethics are interested in solving the problem of mobility in other ways. It rebels against an industrialized worldview , as expressed in a quote from Peter Drucker : "Before being possessed and used, every plant is a weed and every mineral is just another stone."

Samuel A. Trumbore describes deep ecology from an ecocentric point of view. Instead of the superficial approach of viewing pollution as a control, housing and distribution problem in order to limit human poisoning, deep ecology questions the production of any toxic waste in general and assesses its impact on the entire biosphere . A superficial approach to acid rain would be to grow resilient crops instead of eliminating acid rain itself in order to preserve native flora and fauna, such as by moving the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Deep ecology stands for supporting indigenous industries as well as traditional crops and technologies in order to limit the destruction of cultural regions, instead of the building up of heavy industry in underdeveloped countries, which is used today , whose exports are promoted at low prices in developed markets.

Arne Næss' further relevance to philosophy

Næss played a crucial role in establishing a new social order in Norway after the Second World War. With his versatile orientation, his theoretical acumen and empirical interest he became the natural focus. Among other things, he led the major UNESCO project “Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity” in 1956, and from 1958 he founded and directed Inquiry , an interdisciplinary journal for philosophy and social theory .

Næss has stood out on several occasions with radical political positions. In 1952, together with Vilhelm Aubert, Harald Ofstad and Arild Haaland, he published Tenk en gang til (freely translated: "Think again"), a pacifist contribution against anti-communists and Cold War propaganda . He wrote analyzes of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance, and since the 1970s he has been involved in the environmental movement and the organization "Fremtiden i våre hender" ("The future in our hands"). In this context, there is also his book Økologi, samfunn og livsstil ('Ecology, Society and Lifestyle') from 1976, which was published in German under the title The future in our hands by David Rothenberg .


Næss is controversial because of its emphasis on population policy and its postulate to reduce humanity to an "acceptable minimum". Is also viewed critically Næss' criticism of allegedly too liberal immigration concepts, according to which, due to the "in the richer countries [...] huge [ n every immigrant] per capita waste [...] from a poor ecological in a rich country stress" creates . It is "obvious that the children of the immigrants equally take over the fatal consumption pattern of the rich countries and thus continue to contribute to the ecological crisis."


  • Order of Saint Olav (Commander with Star), 2005
  • Årets Peer Gynt, 2004
  • Nature and Environment Prize of the Nordic Council , 2002
  • Uggla Prize, Humanistiska Föreningen, Stockholm University, 2002
  • Diploma and Medal from King Harald V of Norway for his contribution in the Intelligence Agency XU during the German occupation, 1998
  • The Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, Italy 1998
  • Svenska Academies nordiska pris , 1996
  • The Mountain Tradition Award (Fjellskikkspris) by the Red Cross, Oslo 1996
  • The Mahatma Gandhi Prize for Non-violent Peace, Oslo 1994
  • Fridtjof Nansen's Award (Fridtjof Nansen Foundation for the promotion of Science), 1983
  • Sonning Prize , Denmark 1977

Honorary doctorates

  • The Norwegian National University of Sports and Physical Education (1995)
  • Stockholm University (1972)

Honorary memberships


Arne Næss wrote about 30 books and numerous articles.

  • The future in our hands: A deep ecological philosophy (Edition Trickster, 2013); 978-3-7795-0376-7
  • The Selected Works of Arne Næss (SWAN) 10 volumes (2005)
  • Life's philosophy: reason and feeling in a deeper world (2002). (Original title: Livsfilosofi: et personlig bidrag om følelser og fornuft, 1998)
  • Inn i filosofi (2002)
  • Mental Håndbak: a series of conversations with Norwegian children between the ages of 7-17 (2002)
  • Philosophy history (2001)
  • Gandhi, Nature and Culture (2000)
  • Livsfilosofi, Nature and Culture (2000)
  • Det Frie Mennesket - en innføring i Spinozas filosofi (1999)
  • Hallingskarvet: the father of the good, long life (1995). (Original title: Hallingskarvet: det gode, long livs far)
  • Ecology, Community and Lifestyle (1989) ISBN 3762657157
  • Freedom, Emotion and Self-subsistence (1975)
  • Gandhi and Group Conflict (1974)
  • The Pluralist and Possibilist Aspect of the Scientific Enterprise (1972)
  • Skepticism (1969)
  • Four modern philosophers (1968)
  • Communication and Argument (1966, German: Kommunikation und Argumentation. An introduction to applied semantics, Cornelsen, Kronberg 1975 ISBN 3589200472 )
  • Symbolic Logic (1961)
  • Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity (1956)
  • History of Philosophy (1953)
  • Truth as conceived by those who are not professional philosophers (1938)
  • Knowledge and scientific behavior (Oslo: Norske Videnskaps-Akademi, 1936)

Web links

The following web links lead to articles and interviews about, by and with Arne Næss. They also served as essential sources for this post.


  1. Interview by Nancho Ijin Butai with Arne Naess in 1999: Nancho Ijin Butai: Let's start at ground zero. What is your personal definition of "Deep Ecology"? Arne Naess: Deep Ecology - I could also call it "Green" - the Green Movement is a movement where you not only do good for the planet for the sake of humans but also for the sake of the planet itself. That's to say that you start from the whole of the globe and talk about the ecosystems, trying to keep them healthy as a value in itself. That is to say, for their own sake, like you do things for your own children or for your own dog, not only thinking of the dog as an instrument for your pleasure. So, deep ecology starts from a philosophical or religious view that all living beings have value in themselves and therefore need protection against the destruction from billions of humans. That's one basic point. Otherwise I would say that deep ecology or the green movement is a movement of activists or being active amongst one's own friends and where one works and, if one has the time, one takes part in demonstrations; one should try to not break any laws, but if it is absolutely necessary and everything has been with no result, then we also must break some laws. So, we have a total view; that is to say, a view of nature and man's relation to nature such that we combine a fundamental attitude and rejoice in nature for nature with practice in society.
  2. ^ Peter Bierl : Green brown. Environmental, animal and homeland protection from the right. Unrast Verlag, Münster 2014, p. 34.