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"Book Reviews" (a column from the Christian Research Journal,
Spring 1992, page 36) by Elliot Miller and Paul Carden.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
*A Summary Critique*
*Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for
In this election year many Americans are hearing for the first
time about "Green politics" (also known as New Age politics), as
Green Party candidates seek office in numerous local elections. The
same phenomenon swept much of Western Europe in the 1980s, and now
the Greens are well represented in the national legislatures of
several countries, including Germany.
Green politics has a distinctive ecological and spiritual
orientation based in an environmental philosophy called "deep
ecology." _Toward a Transpersonal Ecology_ -- whose author, Warwick
Fox, is a National Research Fellow at the Centre for Environmental
Studies, University of Tasmania -- is the best introduction to deep
ecology in print.
In 1962 Rachel Carson's _Silent Spring,_ a book about the
pollution of the environment, launched the modern-day environmental
movement. The movement accelerated with the 1972 publication of the
Club of Rome's _The Limits to Growth._ Then, in the mid 1970s, the
discipline of environmental philosophy/ethics (or _ecophilosophy_)
began to flourish. Even today, however, "ecophilosophy is still
very much a marginal rather than a mainstream pursuit in
contemporary academic philosophy" (p. 9).
In the early 1970s eminent Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess
began classifying ecophilosophers as either "shallow" or "deep."
This typology was one of many then used to describe the difference
between an anthropocentric (man-centered) and ecocentric
(environment-centered) approach to ecology. In the early 1980s it
rose to prominence becoming the main way ecophilosophers are
Shallow ecology is environmental protection which does not
arise from a new way of thinking about man's relation to the
environment. Deep ecologists cite the philosophy of humanism and
the animal liberation movement as examples of shallow ecology (66).
Deep ecology differs from mainstream New Age thinking in its
rejection of humanism, blaming anthropocentrism for virtually all
of our environmental woes.
Anthropocentrism is described by deep ecologists as both
chauvinism and imperialism, only -- unlike other expressions of
these evils -- it is rarely noticed. Even when concerns about
environmental abuse are raised, arguments are couched in terms of
preserving _human_ resources rather than preserving nature for its
own sake or for its value to _nonhuman_ beings. "Thus, even many of
those who deal most directly with environmental issues continue to
perpetuate, however unwittingly, the arrogant assumption that we
humans are central to the cosmic drama; that, essentially, the
world is made for us. John Seed...writes: 'The idea that humans are
the crown of creation, the source of all value, the measure of all
things is deeply embedded in our culture and consciousness'" (11).
What about the biblical view that _God,_ not _man,_ is the
source of all value? "From a nonanthropocentric perspective,
personalistic kinds of theocentrism, such as the dominant form of
Christianity where humans are made in the image of a god to whom
they have a privileged personal relationship, are in any case
simply anthropocentric _projections_ upon the cosmos" (9).
The anthropocentric and ecocentric approaches have been
classified as _instrumental_ and _intrinsic_ value theories,
respectively. According to instrumental value theory, humans "are
valuable in and of themselves but...the nonhuman world is valuable
only insofar as it is of value _to_ humans" (149). Thus, nature's
value is _only_ as a means or _instrument_ to human ends. According
to intrinsic value theory, at least some aspects or members of the
nonhuman world are valuable in and of themselves.
Fox describes three instrumental value theory approaches: (1)
_unrestrained exploitation and expansionism_ values transforming
nature without concern for depleting resources for future
generations; (2) _resource conservation and development_ also
values transforming the nonhuman world, but recognizes the
limitations of resources; (3) _resource preservation_ stresses the
_instrumental_ value of nature to humans if some of it is left
The author then details five intrinsic value theory approaches:
(1) _ethical sentientism_ proposes that intrinsic value belongs to
any creature possessing _sentience:_ the capacity for sense
perception; (2) _life-based ethics_ holds that because all living
entities (sentient or not) are continually engaged in
self-regeneration, they should be considered ends in themselves and
not mere means to ends; (3 and 4) _ecosystem ethics_ and _ecosphere
ethics_ maintain that local ecosystems and the planetary ecosphere
(sometimes called "Gaia") are in a sense living systems and thus
have intrinsic value; (5) _cosmic purpose ethics_ finds value in
nonhuman entities by virtue of their being expressive of some
_cosmic_ interest (e.g., evolution or the nature or purposes of
Although deep ecology is aligned with the interests of
intrinsic value theory approaches, there is much ambiguity and
confusion over whether all ecocentric approaches should be
classified as deep ecology. This is because the term has been used
in three distinct and differing senses.
In his original and _formal_ use of _deep_ in deep ecology,
Naess refers "to the idea that deep ecological views, in contrast
to shallow ecological views, are derived from _fundamental_
valuations and hypotheses that are arrived at by a process of
asking progressively deeper questions" (126). He prefers to reserve
the term deep for "primarily the level of questioning, not the
content of the answer" (102). Naess, Fox observes, makes the
mistake of _assuming_ that anyone who develops an ecophilosophy
from fundamentals will arrive at an ecocentric view. But Fox
demonstrates how a fundamentalist Christian or an evolutionist
could derive a logically consistent anthropocentric environmental
philosophy from their own fundamentals. Thus, Naess's formal sense
of deep ecology cannot really be limited to the philosophical and
popular expressions that are associated with that term.
As Naess applied his formal definition by developing his own
personal deep ecology, the _philosophical_ sense of the term was
born. For Naess, _the_ fundamental value is "Self-realization."
Naess's greatest philosophical inspirations have been the Dutch
philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the Indian political reformer Mahatma
Gandhi, and Buddhist psychology. From the pantheist (i.e.,
believing God is all) Spinoza, Naess derived the idea that the
driving force of creation is Self-realization or identification of
the finite part with the infinite Whole (i.e., God). From Gandhi he
concluded that this goal is best achieved through service of the
world rather than abandonment of it. And from Buddhism he adopted
a view of the self as process rather than substantial entity. Fox
summarizes Naess's philosophical sense of deep ecology as follows:
"Naess's fundamental...norm of 'Self-realization!' refers to the
this-worldly realization of as expansive a sense of self as
possible in a world in which selves and things-in-the-world are
conceived as processes" (113-14). Thus, serving the needs of the
physical world (environmental action) can facilitate one's personal
Naess's _popular_ sense of deep ecology refers to the
ecological views shared by those who (in his view) engage in deep
(questioning) ecology. Naess and deep ecologist George Sessions
developed an eight-point platform characterizing the basic
principles of the movement. These stress the intrinsic value of all
life on earth; the value of humans preserving the richness and
diversity of life forms (the only exception would be in serving
_vital_ human needs); the environmental importance of decreasing
human population; the need for radical change in policies affecting
economic, ideological, and technological structures; and the
importance of valuing life quality over increasingly higher
standards of living.
To correct the ambiguity brought by these conflicting uses of
deep ecology, Fox prefers the term _ecocentric ecology movement_
for Naess's popular sense of deep ecology. People who hold these
principles are not actually limited to Naess's movement but include
all who take a nonanthropocentric approach to ecological issues. He
also proposes a change of name for that sense of the term which he
considers most significant -- the philosophical: "Since this
approach is one that involves the realization of a sense of self
that extends beyond (or that is _trans-_) one's egoic,
biographical, or personal sense of self, the clearest, most
accurate, and most informative term for this sense of deep ecology
is, in my view, _transpersonal ecology"_ (197).
Those familiar with recent trends in psychology will recognize
that Fox has employed a term used to describe a pantheistic or
panentheistic (all is in God) offshoot of humanistic psychology:
_transpersonal psychology._ Fox affirms that the above manner of
defining _transpersonal_ (i.e., "beyond" one's personal sense of
self) is exactly the meaning the originators of transpersonal
psychology (Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Graf, and Anthony Sutich) had
in mind. He observes: "The fact that the term _transpersonal_
derives from recent work in psychology is appropriate since Naess's
philosophical sense of deep ecology obviously refers to a
psychologically based approach to the question of our relationship
with the rest of nature as opposed to an axiologically based (i.e.,
a value theory based) approach" (196).
Fox hinges his argument for a psychological, rather than value
theory-based, approach to ecophilosophy on an acceptance of the
tripartite model of the human self found in many schools of
psychology (e.g., the _id, superego,_ and _ego_ in Freudian
analysis). The author himself prefers the terms _desiring-impulsive
self_ (i.e., id), _normative-judgmental self_ (i.e., superego), and
_rationalizing-deciding self_ (i.e., ego).
According to this model, the will of each individual is
represented by the _rationalizing-deciding self,_ who must
continually arbitrate between the competing demands of the
self-centered, irresponsible, unrealistic _desiring-impulsive self_
and the idealistic, self-judging, at times also unrealistic
_normative-judgmental self._ He argues that each of these selves
fits one or more of the value theories described above: the
_desiring-impulsive self_ corresponds to the unrestrained
exploitation and expansionism approach. The _rationalizing-deciding
self_ is expressed in the resource conservation and development and
resource preservation approaches (i.e., they are seeking to find a
compromise between ideals and desires). And the
_normative-judgmental self_ is found in all intrinsic value
The "bottom line" of Fox's analogy is this: despite their
laudable goals, intrinsic value theory approaches are unrealistic.
No one is all _normative-judgmental self._ The _desiring-impulsive
self_ will make its demands, the _rationalizing-deciding self_ will
find compromises between the two, and the environment will suffer
as a result. In a word, human nature is too _selfish_ to live
consistently with intrinsic value theories.
What hope is there then for the environment? This is where deep
ecologists believe they have the answer. Fox argues that
"transpersonal ecology emphasizes a fundamentally different kind of
self to those... in the...tripartite model of the psyche. This is
because, whatever their qualitative differences, the
desiring-impulsive self, the rationalizing-deciding self, and the
normative-judgmental self all refer to a narrow, atomistic, or
particle-like conception of self whereas the transpersonal self
refers to a wide, expansive, or field-like conception of self"
Transpersonal ecology, suggests Fox, transcends this basic
human dilemma caused by selfish desires competing with the demands
of conscience. Moral demands, he tells us,
are directed to and thereby reinforce the primary reality
of the narrow, atomistic, or particle-like sense of self.
In contrast...the transpersonal ecology conception of
self is a wide, expansive, or field-like conception from
the outset. This has the highly interesting, even
startling, consequence that ethics (conceived as being
concerned with moral "oughts") is rendered superfluous!
The reason for this is that if one has a wide, expansive,
or field-like sense of self then...one will naturally
(i.e., spontaneously) protect the natural (spontaneous)
unfolding of this expansive self (the ecosphere, the
cosmos) in all its aspects. (217)
He then quotes Naess: "Just as we need no morals to make us
breathe...[so] if your 'self' in the wide sense embraces another
being, you need no moral exhortation to show care...." (_Ibid._).
Elsewhere Naess comments: "Maturity in humans can be measured along
a scale from selfishness to Selfishness, that is, broadening and
deepening the self, rather than measures of dutiful altruism"
Fox describes three ways of achieving this sense of
identification: _personal_ (brought about through involvement with
the entities with which one identifies); _ontological_ (brought
about through mystical realization of the _fact_ of existence); and
_cosmological_ (brought about through a deep-seated realization
that all entities are aspects of a single, unfolding reality).
A book could be written in reply to the issues Fox raises for
evangelical Christians. Here, I can only address a few key points.
We must ask where Christians belong in the
anthropocentric/ecocentric and instrumental value/intrinsic value
debates. Although many Christians have thought of nature merely in
instrumental terms, Scripture actually provides a firm basis for
its intrinsic value. In Genesis 1 we find that when God completed
various aspects of His creative work He "saw that [they were]
good," _even before man was there to enjoy them_ (vv. 10, 12, 18,
21, 25). Since He pronounced all of His creation "very good" (v.
31), all of nature has intrinsic value. We must avoid an either-or
mentality, for there is _both_ instrumental _and_ intrinsic value
in all of nature. God had man in mind when He created the world
(Gen. 2), but ultimately He created it for Himself (Col. 1:16).
Biblically the answer lies neither with an anthropocentric nor
an ecocentric approach. What is needed is a _theocentric_ view that
allows for value in all things created by God _because_ they were
created by God, yet also allows for special value in man because he
is created in the image of God, who is the Ultimate Value (_see,_
e.g., Matt. 10:29, 31, where the sparrow has intrinsic value, but
man has greater value).
In dismissing the claim that man is created in the image of God
as a mere anthropocentric projection on the universe, deep
ecologists are making a critical mistake: they are failing to
seriously investigate the possibility that this doctrine is rather
the result of divine revelation. For had they carefully considered
the evidence for biblical claims, they would have to acknowledge
that such a position is at least tenable.
The deep ecologists' critique of anthropocentrism must be
evaluated carefully. There are aspects of it that a Christian can
applaud. Certainly, the humanistic _over_valuing of man that says
we are "the source of all value, the measure of all things" (11) is
the antithesis of the biblical view. On the other hand, the
biblical world view protects against a dangerous _under_valuing of
man. For it is only "arrogance" to say humans are "central to the
cosmic drama" and "the crown of creation" if in fact we are not so.
Fox equates the belief that humans are morally superior to
other animals with "the relentless exploitation of the nonhuman
world by humans" (22). But this does not follow _if_ man's
"dominion" over the world is to be one of benign stewardship, not
relentless exploitation (on this, _see_ my book, _A Crash Course on
the New Age Movement_ [Baker Book House, 1989], 85-86).
While Fox makes clear the consequences for the _environment_ of
an anthropocentric approach, he does not adequately consider the
consequences for _humanity_ of a strictly ecocentric approach. Is
it wrong, for example, to inject chimpanzees with the AIDS virus in
the hopes of finding a cure for the epidemic? To be consistent, an
ecocentric philosopher would have to say _yes._ But his (or her)
answer might very well change if he or someone he loves contracts
the disease. And this is not just a matter of one species being
true to its own kind. We instinctively know (at least when we are
forced to choose between humans and nonhumans) that a human life is
of greater worth than other kinds of animal life.
The Bible provides both a basis for utter humility and a basis
for extraordinary worth to human beings. It provides a basis for
man's using creation's resources, but also for setting healthy
limits to that use. Both are essential if we are to forge and
maintain a humane world in the twenty-first century.
Finally, we must consider Fox's proposal of a psychological
approach to environmental concern rather than a value-based
approach. It must first be acknowledged that there is value in
cultivating awareness of how the individual participates in wider
natural processes. But, though such identification can promote
environmental sensitivity, _it cannot relieve the need for ethics._
Fox would eliminate the whole issue of moral responsibility by
expanding the boundaries of self, but human selfishness cannot be
expanded until it becomes unselfishness. This is just the wishful
thinking of pantheists. It is impossible to define morality away:
man always lives with "oughts"; it is part of his constitution.
For example, deep ecologist John Livingston first states that
"ethics and morals are unknown in nature," that they are
"prosthetic devices" invented by our species, that "the notion of
rights as applied to interspecies affairs is probably a blind
alley," and that what we need instead is an "extended
consciousness which transcends mere self." But he immediately goes
on to say: "I see this extended sense of belonging as a fundamental
biological (and thus human) _imperative. I think the thwarting of
such an imperative is in some absolute sense wrong"_ (228, emphasis
It must be conceded that if the pantheistic world view were
true, identification would be superior to morality. But the very
fact that identification cannot be practiced consistently in place
of morality is a proof that the pantheistic world view is _not_
Morality is a factor that gives _meaning_ and _dignity_ to
man's existence. It must be faced squarely and its demands met. To
define it out of existence is to _depersonalize_ (not
"transpersonalize") man -- to reduce him to something less than he
actually is. Replacing morality with identification is simply
cosmic narcissism in which true, other-oriented love (the highest
attainment possible to man, modeled and taught by Christ [John
13:34-35; 15:13]) becomes a lost possibility. What is really needed
in environmental ethics, then, as in all spheres of ethics, is the
dynamic power of truly selfless love for God and all His "good"
works -- a power made available (as such saints as Francis of
Assisi have demonstrated) through a vital Christian faith.
-- _Elliot Miller_
(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991)
I read both this Fox, Warwick (1990) book about 20 years ago and nearly as many years ago these real and imperfect but real good critiques (imperfect: eg. those uses of the words pantheistic or panentheistic are wrong, pathetic 'reductionistic', tendentiousness, priggishness. Many major religions 'best' expressions, which in fact incorporate this "psychological identification", amongst much more, cannot be reduced to these mono-thinking--reductions mischaracterisations--- in other words an exclusive-mono-thinking bigotry imperfection masking their denial of being impressed by the alive cosmos---how can anyone but very silly deny it from respect---it's the cosmos stupid! whatever context you look at it from and whatever shallow or depth perspective. Any genuine respect requires respecting plurality of (multiple not mono) context positions, values positions, ... The rest rocks. Fox sucks in his narcissism, just as much as Fox rightly criticises false pseudo Christians who ego-manically project their egos onto the cosmos and call that looking in the mirror image God, as appalling narcissists. Plurality has never lost and always already has won victory without any fight, presently, since billions of years ago and into billions of years future. Cosmos is the nature of the word nature (natura -- Latin) equally is the meaning of the word Physis (--Greek) from which it is the latin translation) .
With sorrow and real compassion remembering all the victims of 9/11.
Mr. Jason Stewart
On 08/09/2012, at 6:38 PM, Jason Stewart wrote:
> "We shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man. . - . Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our destiny."
> a quotation of this below book, which itself quotes this writing from Lynn White's paper published in the international journal "Science" 10 March 1967---see the full quotation of that paper further below;
> --page 6
> of: Fox, Warwick (1990). Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism.
> Boston and London: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 9780791427750.
> → http://books.google.com.au/books?id=05gK9U5c3ywC
> (Author website → http://www.warwickfox.com/)
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