We are all dimly aware, even out of the political campaign war zone here in California, that something extraordinary is taking place as the result of the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, and how it recently upheld itself in its decision by striking down a century-old Montana law barring corporate contributions to political campaigns.
We aren’t quite sure if the campaign rhetoric of the year is even less rational than usual or if, due to the infusion of unlimited plutocrat cash into the political process just magnifies the pre-existing cancer. Another aspect of the present season is our knowledge that now there are no legal limits at all on campaign expenditure. Before, one can argue convincingly there were no limits because legal limits were avoided. But, this avoidance rarely came to light, so there was generally some question about how badly the political campaign laws were abused. Intimate contact with political campaigns generally persuades those who have had it that anything is possible and no one has ever watched and the official watchdogs were essentially powerless institutions.
In short, we always knew our government was pretty corrupt. Anyone who has had to have prolonged contact with government agencies eventually has to realize that they are pretty corrupt. But this year seems to have taken the “pretty” out of the definition, or a lack of aesthetics.
Polling for the last several years suggests this is by no means an eccentric point of view.
Grim as the political economy may appear to the majority of Americans, it is a great opportunity to sort out one’s philosophy.
Here in Merced and in the larger region of the north San Joaquin Valley, we are benefited by a straightforward philosophy universally held by local government land-use authorities. It was the philosophy of Growth. Its underlying assumption was that people either with no intention of moving to this region (speculators) or people who did not yet know they would be moving to this region would buy all the housing authorities could permit, developers could build and banks and other mortgage lenders could finance. It turned out to be brilliantly predictive for several years. After that it morphed into its opposite.
This you might call a ‘speculative’ philosophy, but in the limited sense of how a craps shooter ‘speculates’ on the dice, a horse player ‘speculates’ on the daily double, or a lettuce grower ‘speculates’ on a crop. However, there is a difference between these speculations and those of our land-use authorities and their staffs. In the former speculations, at least there will always be dice, horse races and lettuce seed. The problem is what happens at the end of the toss, the bet, planting and cultivation. Our fearless decision-makers speculated there would be constantly rising demand for housing in our region. No dice player imagines throwing 7’s every time; no horse player expects to win the daily double every time he bets on it; and no lettuce grower expects to make money on every crop. They could not imagine, although thoroughly participating in the fleecing, that buyers could be systematically duped to the point that they simply quit buying and quit paying and that the situations that they had bought into guaranteed that they would be neighbors from Hell.
Of course we are all forgiven because we were victims of the greatest financial fraud in human history. It would be a bit more convincing if a comfortable majority of land-use decision-makers were not in the speculations every step of the way. And here we are more than four years after the crash and they show no signs of having learned anything that might possibly be of public use.
But they can be forgiven on philosophical grounds as well, because their difficulties lie in the abstruse branch of philosophy known as ontology, which concerns what is and what is not. In the case of the mentioned speculation, the ontological problem was that in the beginning of the boom the demand for new housing did not exist and at the end of it the credit did not exist. The non-existence of demand and credit does not a vibrant real estate market make.
We hope that by providing this brief yet broad discussion of how to develop a responsible philosophy, we might gently lead our leaders from speculation to reflection.
Badlands Journal editorial board
from Ecology, community and lifestyle, by Arne Naess (1989)
(b) Ecophilosophy and ecosophy
The study of ecology indicates an approach, a methodology which can be suggested by the simple maxim ‘all things hang together’. This has application to and overlaps with the problems in philosophy: the placement of humanity in nature, and the search for new kinds of explanation of this through the use of systems and relational perspectives.
The study of these problems common to ecology and philosophy shall be called ecophilosophy. It is a descriptive study, appropriate, say, to a university milieu. It does not make a choice between fundamental value priorities, but merely seeks to examine a particular kind of problem at the vast juncture between the two well-recognized disciplines.
But such value priorities are essential in any programmatic argument. The word ‘philosophy’ itself can mean two things: (1) a field of study, an approach to knowledge; (2) one’s own personal code of values and a view of the world which guides one’s own decisions (insofar as one does fullheartedly feel and think they are the right decisions). When applied to questions involving ourselves and nature, we call this latter meaning of the word ‘philosophy’ and ecosophy…
We study ecophilosophy, but to approach practical situations involving ourselves, we aim to develop our own ecosophies. In this book I introduce one ecosophy, arbitrarily called Ecosophy T. You are not expected to agree with all of its values and paths of derivation, but to learn the means for developing your own systems or guides, say Ecosophies X, Y or Z. Saying ‘your own’ does not imply that the ecosophy is in any way an original creation by yourself. It is enough that it is a kind of total view which you feel at home with, ‘where you philosophically belong’. Along with one’s own life, it is always changing.
‘Ecosophy’ is a compound of the prefix ‘eco-‘found in economy and ecology, and the suffix’-sophy’ found in philosophy. In the word ‘philosophy’, ‘-sophy’ denotes insight or wisdom, and ‘philo-‘ denotes a kind of friendly love. ‘Sophia’ need not have specific scientific pretensions as opposed to ‘logos’ compound words (biology, anthropology, geology, etc.), but all ‘sophical’ insight should be directly relevant for action, Through their actions, a person or organization exemplifies sophia, sagacity, and wisdom – or lack thereof. ‘Sophia’ intimates acquaintance and understanding rather than impersonal or abstract results. Peter Wessel Zapffe’s ‘biosophy’* does the same: valuation of life, especially the problematic ‘human condition’. The more grounded approach of pro aut contra dialogue, together with the scientific ethic of respect for the norms of impartiality (in Norwegian, saklighet, ‘appropriateness to the situation at hand’), serve to help us explore our existence.
Etymologically, the word ‘ecosophy’ combines oikos and sophia, ‘household’ and ‘wisdom’. As in ‘ecology’, ‘eco-‘ has an appreciably broader meaning than the immediate family, household, and community. ‘Earth household’ is closer to the mark. So an ecosophy becomes a philosophical world-view or system inspired by the conditions of life in the ecosphere. It should then be able to serve as an individual’s philosophical grounding for an acceptance of the principles or platform or deep ecology as outlines at the close of chapter 1.
A conscious change of attitude towards the conditions of life in the ecosphere presupposes that we associate ourselves with a philosophical position to all essential problems of decision-making. Therefore, contextual and systems thinking is to be emphasized throughout this work.
But to have a world-view is one thing, to attempt to give a systematical expression of it is another. A philosophical system has many components. Logic, general methodology, epistemology, ontology, descriptive and normative ethics, philosophy of science, political and social philosophy, and general aesthetics are among the most well-known. Ecosophy T says this of this diversity: all are intimately interconnected! You will find a view on all of them intimated in this work. A formal logic cannot be concretely developed without assuming positions in methodology, normative philosophy, etc. Political philosophy is implied in any social development of an ecosophy. Conversely, one cannot develop a political philosophy without presupposing formal logic and assuming standpoints about rhetoric and communication, and thus in the philosophy of language. To assume a position in one scientific discipline presumes standpoints in all the others. A sufficiently profound analysis of presuppositions reveals that a standpoint in any science whatsoever presupposes the assumption of a position in all the philosophical disciplines. To ‘have’ a world-view or philosophy is not pretentious. We may stress our bottomless ignorance. If anything is pretentious, it is the claim to act as a whole person. If we claim this, I think it is inescapable to admit that we have presuppositions, expressed or unexpressed.
The essential idea is that, as humans, we are responsible in our actions as to motivations and premises relative to any question that can be asked of us. Needless to say, a total view cannot be completely articulated by any person or group. The medieval church and dialectical materialism intended a sort of completeness, but they scarcely achieved enduring success. Et all we do somehow implies the existence of such systems however elusive they may be to concrete description….
This book encourages the reader to try to articulate the necessary parts or fragments of his or her own implicit views, in the hope that it will lead to clarification of the difficult process of facing and responding to the challenges of life in our ecosphere…. – Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, Arne Naess, Cambridge (1989), pp. 37-38.
* Peter Wessel Zapffe is Norway's first ecophilosopher, introducing a connection between philosophy and the biological place of man early in this century. His central point is that Man is the ultimate tragic being, because he has learned enough about the Earth to realize the Earth would be better off without the presence of humankind. His major work, Om det tragiske (On the Tragic) has not been translated into English. The only published translations of Zapffe into Enbglish are in Reed and Rothenberg (1987).