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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

This paper focuses on the assertion of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1989: 20) that "ethics follow from how we experience the world." I discuss what the statement might mean when applied to Naessian Deep Ecology. There follows a discussion of the close cohesion between experience and practice in Naessian thought. I attend to Naess's descriptions of the relationship between mystical nature experience and "ecological enlightenment," in which he suggests that an intense union with nature will lead the experiencing individual to enact Deep Ecological thought, as Naess formulates it. I seek to amplify the definition of mystical nature experience with reference to William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience, and particularly to James's assertions about the effects of religious experience on individual action. Naess (1986: 225-239) has cited James's work as a significant influence on his understanding of the terms "self" and "experience." Is Naess advocating a need to reeducate people to experience nature, in the hope that environmental awareness will increase accordingly? What experience of nature would inspire an environmental ethic? I conclude by arguing that Naess's reformative agenda stands in a complex relationship to the emphasis on individual, mystical nature experience as the catalyst to "ecological enlightenment." This complexity has not been satisfactorily resolved within Naessian Deep Ecology.


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