restricted access Arne Naess, Val Plumwood, and Deep Ecological Subjectivity: A Contribution to the "Deep Ecology-Ecofeminism Debate"
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Ethics & the Environment 7.1 (2002) 24-38

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Arne Naess, Val Plumwood, and Deep Ecological Subjectivity
A Contribution to the "Deep Ecology-ecofeminism Debate"

Christian Diehm

Karen Warren's recent essay, "Ecofeminist Philosophy and Deep Ecology," begins by noting that the philosophical positions found under the heading "deep ecology" are anything but monolithic. This point, which has been overlooked by deep ecologists as often as by others, is crucial for those who are interested in the "deep ecology-ecofeminism debate," for just as one must specify which of the ecofeminisms are in question, so too one must be clear about which of the deep ecologies is being debated, if one is to make one's way through the complex relationships between them. In the course of her article, Warren recounts with approval Val Plumwood's "Nature, Self and Gender: Feminism, Environmental Philosophy, and the Critique of Rationalism," an essay which locates, discusses, and critiques three versions of the "self" that various deep ecologists offer. In light of Plumwood's comments, Warren argues that the work of Arne Naess differs significantly from other deep ecologists such that "Naess' deep ecology position is or could be compatible with ecofeminism" (Warren 1999, 255). [End Page 24]

In this essay, I propose to continue the analysis offered by Warren by examining how Naess might respond individually to the objections Plumwood voices. This will be done by looking closely at Naess's articulation of what he refers to as the "ultimate premises" of his view, premises that are not necessarily aspects of deep ecology per se, but of his own ecophilosophy, "Ecosophy 'T'." 1 I will argue that even though Naess may not be subject to Plumwood's most immediate criticisms, her work exposes the problematic tendency of his philosophy of identification to stress sameness in relations with others. I will conclude by suggesting a critical revision of the notion of identification that would allow one to retain key features of Naess's view—most notably his gestaltist understanding of the "self" or "subject" and his emphasis on "Self-realization" as an ultimate norm—while responding to the problems that Plumwood's work exposes.

The Self as Transpersonal

One of the three senses of self specified by Plumwood is the "transpersonal" self. Her discussion of the transpersonal self focuses on the work of Warwick Fox who, in his Toward a Transpersonal Ecology, describes three "varieties of identification": personal, ontological, and cosmological. 2 Fox favors the latter two because they are less local than personal identification, and this is due to the fact that they are not rooted in the immediate reality in which one moves, but rather within broader, more encompassing views, and thus are said to be "impartial" (Fox 1995, 256). As such, it is claimed that these trans-personal forms of identification escape the problem that accompanies personal identification, which is that, qua personal, it is necessarily biased in favor of those with whom one has personal contact, and thus seems to "have far more to do with the cause of possessiveness, greed, exploitation, war, and ecological destruction than with the solution to these seemingly intractable problems" (262). But this is not meant to imply an outright rejection of personal identification, and Fox cites as proof of this Naess's approval of the "felt nearness" of others as a principle for resolving conflicts. Fox's point is to show that trans-personal identification "proceeds from a sense of the cosmos . . . and works inward to each particular individual's sense of commonality with other entities" (258), but that within this framework personal identification remains important as "an inescapable aspect of living and . . . plays a fundamental role in human development" (266-7).

Plumwood's critique of this view is that the privileging of the transpersonal [End Page 25] over the personal repeats a patriarchal gesture of the exclusion of a "corrupting and self-interested" particularity in favor of an impersonal and abstract universality (Plumwood 1991, 15). And, ultimately, such a position "cannot allow for the deep and highly...