Gandhi and Group Conflict: An Exploration of Satyagraha.
Part III: Norms and Hypotheses of Gandhian Ethics and Strategy of Group Struggle

by Arne Naess

Introductory Remarks: Aim of the Systematization

Any normative, systematic ethics containing a perfectly general norm against violence will be called an ethics of nonviolence. The content will show variation according to the kind of concept of violence adopted. In order to do justice to the thinking of Gandhi, the term violence must be viewed broadly. It must cover not only open, physical violence but also the injury and psychic terror present when people are subjugated, repressed, coerced, and exploited. Further, it must clearly encompass all those sorts of exploitation that indirectly have personal repercussions that limit the self-realization of others.

The corresponding negative term nonviolence must be viewed very narrowly. It is not enough to abstain from physical violence, not enough to be-have peacefully.

In what follows, we offer a condensed systematic account of the positive ethics and strategy of group struggle, trying to crystallize and make explicit the essentials. We use the adjective positive, because the systematization does not include a treatment of evils, for instance, a classification into greater and less great evils. (Whereas violence is always an evil, it is sometimes a greater evil to run away from responsibility.)

Read all of this article: Part III: Norms and Hypotheses of Gandhian Ethics and Strategy of Group Struggle

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: Posted here is Part III of Gandhi and Group Conflict: an Exploration of Satyagraha, a Theoretical Background. The first edition was: Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1974. However, it is currently available, in a somewhat revised and edited version, as Volume 5 of the 10 volume Selected Works of Arne Naess, published by Springer Verlag.  We use here the Springer version as it corrects some grammar from the original, (Norwegian) English language version and is more readable. We are grateful to Springer Verlag and to Mrs. Arne Naess for permission. Copyright © 2012 Mrs. Arne Naess/Estate of Arne Naess. We are also grateful to Alan Drengson for his assistance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009) was one of the foremost environmental thinkers of the 20th century, and is often referred to as “the father of deep ecology”. He was critical of environmentalists who did not seek to address the institutional causes of environmental degradation, or seek to change them. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) made a deep impact on him. And in the late 1960s he undertook a thorough study of Gandhi’s theory of nonviolent active resistance. In satyagraha Naess found the answer to his quest for a strategy to address the ecological crisis: Gandhian nonviolent active resistance could be synthesized with deep ecology. This Gandhian side of Naess’s thinking is acknowledged but not well enough known. He was a major interpreter and theoretician of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent active resistance, on a par with, if not subtler than, either Joan Bondurant or Krishnalal Shridharani. In this work, his reinterpretation of the meaning of Gandhian strategy remains one of the most trenchant discussions of Gandhian philosophy thus far written.

Naess’s philosophical work was in the area of linguistic analysis, applying mathematical set theory to the problem of interpreting language and statements we make to each other. Every statement can have several interpretations, or sets and subsets. How do we evaluate these? He was also concerned about creating a new language for his environmental thinking, coining the term ecosophy, from the Greek words for environment and wisdom, to describe his belief that every living being, whether plant, animal, or person, has the right to live and blossom, the right to self-realization.

WEB REFERENCES: A useful critical appreciation has been written by David Orton of the Springer 10 volume set. The article serves as a useful guide also to the contents of the volumes.

The main site for articles on ecosophy, is Trumpeter. The Journal of Ecosophy.

Alan Drengson is one of the main interpreters of Arne Naess, and an executor of the Naess estate. His beautiful and useful ecostery foundation website is well worth visiting.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi