Ecosophy or ecophilosophy (a portmanteau of ecological philosophy) is a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. The term was coined by the French post-structuralist philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari and the Norwegian father of deep ecology, Arne Næss.
The term ecosophy was coined in 1973 by the famous Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009), founder of Deep Ecology, in his article The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary and deep ecology: a summary), in Inquiry magazine (as part of a special edition of the Chilean magazine Environment and Development, was translated into Spanish and reissued in 2007). Etymologically ecosophy comes from the union of the Greek word οἶκος (oikos), which means house and σοφία (sofia), which is translated as knowledge or wisdom. Initially Naess connotes it as a kind of ecological philosophy:
By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of harmony with nature or ecological balance.
Later the Frenchman Felix Guattari (1930-1992), also a philosopher and who truly gives him epistemic content, presents it as a transdisciplinary and integrative knowledge, in which a particular philosophical theory is not considered, but among other things, it seeks the reconciliation between different knowledge, based on a non-anthropocentric humanism and the search for an organic integration in the psychological and social plane of man as part of a biosphere in harmonic equilibrium.
It will not be a discipline of withdrawal over interiority, nor a simple renewal of the old forms of “militantism.” Rather, it will be a multi-faceted movement that establishes both analytical instances and devices and producers of subjectivity.
Ecosophy also refers to a field of practice introduced by psychoanalyst, poststructuralist philosopher, and political activist Félix Guattari. In part Guattari’s use of the term demarcates a necessity for the proponents of social liberation, whose struggles in the 20th century were dominated by the paradigm of social revolution, to embed their arguments within an ecological framework which understands the interconnections of social and environmental spheres.
Guattari holds that traditional environmentalist perspectives obscure the complexity of the relationship between humans and their natural environment through their maintenance of the dualistic separation of human (cultural) and nonhuman (natural) systems; he envisions ecosophy as a new field with a monistic and pluralistic approach to such study. Ecology in the Guattarian sense, then, is a study of complex phenomena, including human subjectivity, the environment, and social relations, all of which are intimately interconnected. Despite this emphasis on interconnection, throughout his individual writings and more famous collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, Guattari has resisted calls for holism, preferring to emphasize heterogeneity and difference, synthesizing assemblages and multiplicities in order to trace rhizomatic structures rather than creating unified and holistic structures.
Without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an “ecosophy” that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.
— Guattari 1992
Guattari’s concept of the three interacting and interdependent ecologies of mind, society, and environment stems from the outline of the three ecologies presented in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, a collection of writings by cyberneticist Gregory Bateson.
Naess defined ecosophy in the following way:
By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.
— A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8
While a professor at University of Oslo in 1972, Arne Næss, introduced the terms “deep ecology movement” and “ecosophy” into environmental literature. Naess based his article on a talk he gave in Bucharest in 1972 at the Third World Future Research Conference. As Drengson notes in Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview, “In his talk Næss discussed the longer-range background of the ecology movement and its connection with respect for Nature and the inherent worth of other beings.” Naess’s view of humans as an integral part of a “total-field image” of Nature contrasts with the alternative construction of ecosophy outlined by Guattari.
The term ecological wisdom, synonymous with ecosophy, was introduced by Næss in 1973. The concept has become one of the foundations of the deep ecology movement. All expressions of values by Green Parties list ecological wisdom as a key value—it was one of the original Four Pillars of the Green Party and is often considered the most basic value of these parties. It is also often associated with indigenous religion and cultural practices. In its political context, it is necessarily not as easily defined as ecological health or scientific ecology concepts.
The three ecologies to which Guattari refers, refer to what the author considers as the main ecological records, or levels at which the ecology has significance: the environment, social relations and human subjectivity; under the ethical-political articulation of Ecosophy.
Reorienting the conception of being beyond the limits of your physical body, accepting that we are also the result of interactions with our environment, is one of the missions of mental ecology. The idea of the “Ecological Being”, proposed by the English anthropologist, sociologist, linguist and cybernetic Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), is essential for the new connotation and that is why it is conceived as one of the scientific pillars of Ecosophy. This could vary the interpretation of man as being bio-psycho-social, by an extended understanding as being bio-psycho-socio-environmental. This would be one of the necessary steps to reconfigure the human perception of its place and role in the biosphere, under non-anthropocentric positions. It is also up to mental ecology to develop human resilience, making fertile feelings, creativity and positive energies emerge from their emotional confrontation with the effects of the crisis. In this sense it is important to immunize society against the manipulation of the great mass media, which generally manage to distort reality according to the interests of the power groups that control them.
Social ecology must reinvent forms of fair, inclusive, harmonious, peaceful and equitable coexistence in groups in socialization settings, whether in the family framework, in work spaces or in urban contexts. Guattari gives it a very important role at the social level, since it recognizes the irrational bases of the society-nature confrontation in the diverse and crude social problems, accumulated by centuries of injustices, segregations, inequities, ambitions of wealth, power and territorial expansion, which began with the ancient civilizations and have been severely accentuated in recent years constituting distinctive features of capitalism, especially its imperialist side. Thus being phenomena, such as the globalization of business powers (transnationals) and media machinery, impose tough challenges to the necessary transformation that arises.
Social ecology must work on the reconstruction of human relations at all levels of the socius.
The environmental ecology of which he speaks, in essence, does not deviate from the environmental ideal promoted since the second half of the twentieth century, but it should not be reduced, nor separated from the social and mental. It is about assuming a global perspective, which involves all components of society (not only scientists, academics and environmental activists), developing a global responsibility and addressing all three levels (mental, social and environmental), as a systemic unity.
Fields of Ecosophy
The Cuban philosopher Rigoberto Pupo has recognized the presence of four well-defined fields in the configuration proposed by the Guattari Ecosophy: an emotional field, a practical field, a spiritual field and a scientific field.
Emotionally, Ecosophy must lead us to a different way of understanding and emotionally relating to our environment of existence, facing the consequences of the crisis and overcoming them creatively and positively, instead of repressing them and assuming pessimistic or apocalyptic positions. Solidarity, generosity, compassion and altruism are some of the features that should be fostered by a resilient humanity, focused on the transformation of habits, customs and lifestyles that led to the contemporary crisis.
Developing ecologically sustainable lifestyles and a system of values that incorporate a strong bioethical foundation, in addition to promoting social development strategies in harmony with the natural system, which foster a positive synergy for both, are some of the challenges of Ecosophy in the practical field All this must be based on inclusion, respect for plurality, social empowerment, political will, through an intercultural dialogic.
From the spiritual field a recomposition of the current conception of an independent and hierarchically superior human being is proposed, with respect to nature. Man must be understood as part of the complex web of life and its existence dependent on the stability of that network, which must be expressed in a global responsibility to the destinies of every living being. The biosphere is assumed as a complex system and therefore autopoietic, in which the balance is manifested by the synergy of its components, including the human being. When the system is destabilized, in the process of self-regulation its components are readjusted to reach a new equilibrium, with the expression of qualities that it did not possess before. These conceptions also have an important theoretical foundation in the idea of the “ecological Being” of Bateson, which can be understood as one of the essences of the ecophysical thought.
When considering the units of evolution, I argued that in each step it is necessary to include the completed pathways outside the protoplasmic aggregate, whether it is DNA-in-the-cell or cell-in-the-body or body-in-the- ambient. The hierarchical structure is not new. Before we talked about the developing individual or the family line or the taxon, and so on. Now we have to conceive of each member of the hierarchy as a system, and not as a wand cut from the surrounding matrix and visualized as opposed to it.
This identity between the unity of mind and the unit of evolutionary survival is of great importance, not only theoretical but ethical. What I mean – you see – is that I locate something that I call “Mind” as immanent in the broader biological system, the ecosystem. Or, if I trace the boundaries of the system on a different level, then the mind is immanent in the total evolutionary structure. If this identity between the evolutionary and mental units were correct in general terms, then we would face different displacements that we have to make in our way of thinking.
The break with the anthropocentrist perception of human life is the key in Bateson’s thinking.
The scientific field seeks to develop a deeper conception of life, from a better understanding of the phenomena and processes that occur in nature, from a complex perspective. Some of the main theories that in this regard have been postulated, fundamentally, since the second half of the twentieth century, constitute the scientific foundation of Ecosophy, such as: the idea of the “Ecological Being”, of the already named Gregory Bateson; the General Systems Theory, of the Austrian biologist and philosopher Ludwig Von Bertalanffy (1901-1972); the Holonic Theory, promoted by the Hungarian novelist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983); the Gaia Hypothesis, raised by the British chemist, meteorologist and environmentalist James Lovelock (1919-) and enriched by the American biologist and environmentalist Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) and the Autopoiesis Theory, proposed by Chilean neurobiologists Francisco Varela (1946-2001) and Humberto Maturana (1928-). It should be noted that although it is not mentioned in Guattari’s work, one of the precursors of these ideas is undoubtedly the wise Russian Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945), physicist, chemist, mathematician and ecologist, he was the founder of geochemistry, biogeochemistry and radiogeology. When Vernadsky built the theoretical body of the biosphere concept and unveiled its relations with the lithosphere, the atmosphere, the technosphere and the noosphere, it laid the foundations for the current understanding of the systemic character of the planet.
Some principles of ecosophical thinking
Overcoming anthropocentrist thinking in the reorientation of individual and collective consciousness towards a humanism that is based on the potential of mankind to act for the good of others, and of nature, under the logic of what is called transdisciplinary research as ” common good.”
The scientific-materialist conception of the universe as a complex and cognitive system, as well as the planet Earth as an autopoietic entity, characterized by symbiosis and biogenesis of conditions for its habitability.
Assumption of life in all its manifestations as the primary universal value and the universal right of all beings.
Reorientation of human behavior and development, under the guidance of a global bioethical thinking and the redefinition of concepts such as development, progress, science, technology, culture, humanity, quality of life and social being.
Transdisciplinarity in the search for wisdom to lead humanity to a harmonious coexistence with and in the biosphere, and towards the maximum possible rehabilitation of ecological relationships damaged by anthropocentric models of human development.
Unity between the psychological, the social and the environmental in the evolution towards a new model of society, where the antagonistic society-nature relationship, imposed by centrist thinking (anthropocentrism, biocentrism, ecocentrism), is transformed into a symbiosis relationship.
The ethical-political commitment as a mediator in the global reorientation, under the aegis of Ecosophy.
Transformation of the tension resulting from the global crisis, into fertile energies and feelings, amplifying the resilience of humanity.
Reorientation of the objectives of the production of material and spiritual goods, on a symbiotic basis with the entire living system, of receiving and giving, considering the survival needs of human beings as those that objectively require material resources.
Discard of hedonistic material production, through a re-significance of pleasure from spiritual creation and the ethical-aesthetic values of a harmonious man-nature relationship.
Elimination of consumerism, hedonistic exacerbation, induced alienation and manipulation by mass media, speculation as a form of market power over society and the market’s own role in determining social policy and processes.
Social inclusion, equity, justice and participatory empowerment, based on convergence between human groups and the achievement of the common good.
Elimination of discrimination in any of its forms, including that which the subjectivity of man imposes between human and non-human, and among the latter, associating certain species with negative qualities or rejecting them for their appearance.
Intercultural dialogue recognizing the unity within diversity, with special attention to what must be generated between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge and between secular culture and religious culture, as the fundamental way to achieve knowledge integration.
Subject groups and world subjectivity
In the ecosophical perspective developed by Guattari, individual initiatives can be captured and federated by groups of subjects or leading groups that interpret needs or diffuse aspirations, excluding institutions of power (Greenpeace, the American neopairian witches around Starhawk, Act Up…), which translate them into government proposals, which put pressure on international bodies, which act on the minds, cultures and values of statesmen, elected officials or officials of international organizations.
A group-subject (an invention of Jean-Paul Sartre reinterpreted by Félix Guattari) is a group whose institutionalization is sufficiently fluid and non-hierarchical not to freeze his inner life in rites and conventions 9. It can detect and out of it the signs of what is living in society under the yoke of hierarchy and conformity, and capture the energy of these underlying forces or unconscious, that make up the subjectivityof a global society. Subjectivity does not belong to any group designated by its functions. It is as unexpected, fragile and effective as life itself. When one does not have the power instituted, one can have the power of perception and interpretation.
Dialoguing with Guattari in December 1991, the Italian political philosopher and agitator Franco Berardi (known as Bifo) draws on the Italian situation, but more generally contemporary Western democracies, or, as Guattari says, ” Integrated Global Capitalism “. a diagnosis that is equally valid for the ecosophical project, which haunts it:
“It is precisely the role of politics that is at stake. The transition to the world economy, the relationship between economics and technology, economics and finance are all ungovernable changes by politics alone – in the sense of this word, from Machiavelli to Lenin and, in fact, until fifteen years, that is, the ability to govern a significant part of social reality in the ocean of human relations and the imaginary. Today, the specific weight of political poweris derisory in the face of the creation of spontaneous, underground networks… (…) We should rather appreciate the weight that politics can have in the face of social change and what role the progressives, whether intellectual or libertarian, can play inside of society. We are faced with an alternative: either we are able to think the problem within the subjectivity of the new society, or we continue to consider it to be the sole political government, and then we have lost. ”
Dissemination of the concept
From the Anglo-Saxon tradition, more recently the concept of “ecosophy” is taken up by the philosopher Hicham-Stéphane Afeissa or by the therapist Thierry Melchior, author including Create real, Hypnosis and therapy, in his book 100 words not to go bad into a psychiatrist published in 2003 to the Defectors to think in circles.
Philippe Pignarre and Isabelle Stengers take up the concept again in its Guattarian filiation in Capitalist Sorcery. Practices of désenvoûtement, The Discovery, 2005.
Manola Antonioli organizes in March 2011 at the University Paris Ouest Nanterre Defense and INHA an international symposium dedicated to the ecosophy.
The editions Wildproject publish in 2009 the work of Arne Næss and David Rothenberg Towards deep ecology.