Photo: Lars Verket

About Open Air Philosophy

The name of this project, Open Air Philosophy, comes from a practice in Norway called friluftsliv, which translates as “open-air life.” The term evokes a sense of belonging to the land, making friends with free nature. Arne Naess, the father of “deep ecology,” was always searching for the existence of what he called “greatness other than human.” Far from moralizing about how other people ought to live, he would invite them to “act beautifully,” and to experience how natural it feels to act in ecologically responsible ways.

When Naess was asked about his expectations for the future, he would sometimes answer, to the surprise of his interviewers, “I am a pessimist for the 21st century, but an optimist for the 22nd century.” This response exemplifies the kind of against-the-grain thinking of the three Norwegian ecophilosophers whose work we present at All demonstrated a surprising ability both to identify and to face directly the vastness of the ecological crisis as it was starting to unfold in their times. With each passing day, we see confirmation that what they foresaw and warned about, decades ago, is indeed taking place.

Their analysis, however, did not stop at making a dire diagnosis; they also chose to develop and embrace a deeper and more long-term view in which we humans are not automatically assigned center stage in the pageant of life. Despite writing forthrightly about the grave challenges facing the Earth, each retained a parallel sense of living life to the full, of enjoying the conviviality of being among friends and the fulfillment that comes from working for change—all fueled by experiences in nature.

We encourage you to read their words as well as reflections by others on their contributions to environmental philosophy. The writings presented here are not comprehensive. This website, by sharing representative works of Arne Naess, Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng, and Peter Wessel Zapffe aims to engage readers, provoke additional scholarship, and expand the community of activists around the globe who embrace ecocentrism—a worldview in which all life is acknowledged to have intrinsic value.

Acknowledgments and Credits

Open Air Philosophy started as an idea of the late Douglas Tompkins, a conservation activist and philanthropist who was friendly with and deeply influenced by Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng and Arne Naess. Support for the project came primarily from the nonprofit he cofounded, Tompkins Conservation. Through his foundation, Doug had earlier sponsored publication of a multivolume collection, The Selected Works of Arne Naess (Springer 2005).

Content editors for this project are Jan van Boeckel and Ceciel Verheij. Ceciel Verheij translated several Norwegian texts which are published for the first time in English on this website. Andrés Stubelt and Cara Nelson/Swift Trek Media provided web design and development. PDF design and typesetting are by Kevin Cross. Tom Butler of Tompkins Conservation served as overall project director.

We gratefully acknowledge the kind support of this project provided by (in alphabetical order): Bob Anderson, Eva Bakkeslett, the Berit og Peter Wessel Zapffes Fond, Frøydis Kvaløy, Kirsten Kvaløy, Lisbeth Sofie Hansen/National Library of Norway, Kit-Fai Naess, and David Rothenberg.

We are also deeply thankful to the following authors and photographers for allowing us to publish their work on this website:

Authors: Stephan Bodian, Jan van Boeckel, Bill Devall, Christian Diehm, Alan Drengson, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Bob Henderson, Dag O. Hessen, Aage Jensen, Satish Kumar, Helena Norberg-Hodge, David Rothenberg, Vandana Shiva, Gisle R. Tangenes, and Bjørn Tordsson.

Photographers and illustrators: Rolf Steinar Bjørnstad, Tayo van Boeckel, Kirsten Kvaløy, Johan Brun, Nancy Bundt, Oddvar Einarson/Elinor Film, Leif Magne Flemmen, Olof Henke, Petter Mejlænder, Jørn Moen, David Rothenberg, Jordan Fisher Smith, Doug Tompkins, Lars Verket, and Stig Ove Voll.

Copyright Notice

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