6/18/11: Toward a Transpersonal Ecology

This excerpt we read is from Warwick Fox’ book “Toward a Transpersonal Ecology” and examined in class alongside Deep Ecology (in general) to compare and contrast the relationship between the two ecosophies. The exercise of defining Deep Ecology and distinguishing it from Transpersonal Ecology was not very easy. Fox referred to Arne Naess throughout the excerpt to introduce and clarify the concepts associated with Transpersonal Ecology; Since Arne Naess is largely responsible for the creation of the formal ecosophy called “Deep Ecology” we had to look closely to see how Transpersonal Ecology could be distinguished from the general Deep Ecological ecosophy.

I’ve decided not to try to clarify these distinctions in this entry. Perhaps I’ve succumbed to the end of semester slackline, or perhaps I’ve been overachieving on my journal entries thus far and have realized that I can cut myself a little slack here. In other words, I’ve decided against trying to recap our class discussion because I don’t remember the details and I didn’t take good notes.

However, some of the key points from the reading are worth drawing out. Fox spent a significant deal of attention to distinguish the ontological aspects of Deep Ecological and Transpersonal ecosophy from moral philosophy in general, to which Deep Ecology has been incorrectly ascribed.  As Fox suggests, “…in philosophical terms, however important environmental ethics are, ontology [the study of Being] is the center of ecosophic concerns.” The broader point seemed to be that Deep Ecologists find greater value in “beautiful action” – action based on personal inclination, rather than a sense of moral obligation, in which people feel pressured to sacrifice their needs and desires based on moral “oughts.” I believe it is from this point that we move into transpersonal ecosophy, where the focus is put on “the this-worldly realization of as expansive a sense of self as possible.” In the words of Andrew McLaughlin: “The heart of deep ecology, according to Devall and Sessions, is the cultivation of ‘ecological consciousness’ [by which they mean the same as Naess means by ‘Self-realization’]…This makes deep ecology a rather more demanding position than contemporary philosophers usually deal with, as it insists on the fundamental importance of the question of what sort of person should I strive to become.”

I’m finding that what I like most about Deep Ecology is the essence of Transpersonal ecosophy, including the rejection of moral “oughts” as an approach to solving social and ecological problems. In the words of Michael Zimmerman: “ontology precedes ethics….Deep ecologists claim that before knowing what we ought to do, we must understand who we really are.” I feel the deep value and need for this kind of shift in focus. If we are to truly address our society’s collective ignorance of the balance of ecological life, I believe it is necessary to ask these ontological questions of ourselves first; but this is a choice, not a moral obligation.  As Fox concludes: “…transpersonal ecologists are not in the business of wanting to claim that their conclusions are morally binding on others [which] means they do not attempt to prove the correctness of their approach….We see that [Naess] continually puts his views forward in a manner that invites the reader’s interest rather than in a manner that demands the reader’s compliance.”

All of a sudden, I feel inspired to continue this reflection on Transpersonal Ecology. I think I’ve found a direction for my final paper!


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