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EAP Publication - 7

ECO-PHILOSOPHY: Designing New Tactics For Living

By Henryk Skolimoski (1981). Marion Boyars Publ., Salem, N.H.

A Summary by Stuart B. Hill

Knowledge and Values

The relation ship between knowledge and values has changed throughout history (see below) where, in Classical (Plato) KNOWLEDGE and VALUES were integrated. During the Middle Ages, VALUES were dominant over KNOWLEDGE. Post Renaissance saw KNOWLEDGE and VALUES separatelyand during Empiricism (Positivists), KNOWLEDGE was dominant over VALUES.

Knowledge and Values

The relationship between knowledge and values has changed throughout history (see below)



While the liberation of verifiable knowledge from imposed religious values in the post-renaissance period marked a major step in our psycho-social evolution it led, through the development of science, to the widespread conception of the universe and its components (including humans) as mechanisms, and to the replacement of intrinsic human values by cold instrumental values.

Religion represented the status-quo, was turned inwards, urged man to perfect himself and seek reward in the after-life. Science, in contrast, represented change, was turned outwards, and promised rewards on earth. While science purported to be dedicated to bringing the greatest good to the greatest number, in practice its emphasis on material goods was laying the foundation of our consumer society and our instrumental values. Today, economic growth is widely regarded as synonymous with progress, decisions are made on the basis of cost-benefit analyses, and methods of operationalizing human activity, particularly work, is regarded as rational.

Such empiricist (Footnote 1) and instrumental values are programmed into our systems in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They are evident, for example, in analytical philosophy, behaviourist psychology, operationalized social science, quantity ridden and computer obsessed political science, and in the many other fact and figure dominated disciplines. It is not surprising that we have become anesthetized to our spiritual heritage and find it difficult to develop alternative non-empiricist world views.

Between 1700 and 1900 the brain came to be regarded as little more than a chest of tools, and knowledge as bits of information. While education based on the transfer of bits of information may appear to be functioning efficiently it keeps learners confused and therefore powerless, rather than enlightened and powerful. The common struggle to achieve mastery over things is a pathological condition that is best understood as an external compensation (act of power) for an internal deficiency (sense of powerlessness).

The most perilous aspects of modern science lies in the consequences it has led to, and the requirements and demands that it implicitly makes on people and on ecosystems

The empiricist approach manifests itself not only in frustrated and alienated youth, whose knowledge does not guide them because they are filled with irrelevant bits of information, but also in the converse phenomenon: our veneration of and craving for the wise, those integrated individuals whose knowledge is able to serve them as human beings.

In this connection we could learn much from oriental cultures, the history of our own civilization, and from primitive societies that persist today. Kant, for example, concluded that physics can provide only a knowledge of the appearance of things, not of the "things-in-themselves", and that values cannot be derived from such knowledge. Rather, he advised that one should "Act according to the principle which you would like to become the universal law". .

One can only know clearly what research to pursue if one is in a state of grace (wise). The graceless, disinherited, subservient mind will always be prone to initiating actions that will eventually mutilate the self and the world.

The task then is to restore the unity of knowledge and values and to realize that wisdom or "enlightened knowledge" is the key to human meaning. For this we will require a new philosophy.

Footnote 1 Proponents of the empiricist approach include Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, d'Alembert, Condillac, Condorcet, Diderot, Voltaire, Laplace, La Mettrie, Comte, Bentham, Mill, Feuerbach, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Russel, and the members of the Vienna Circle.

The anti-empiricists include Pascal, Leibniz, Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Heidegger and Schwitzer.


A philosophy defines the fundamental assumptions and beliefs upon which actions are based. Without a philosophy we have no anchor, no direction, no sense of the meaning of life. If we judge a philosophy by its results it is apparent that our present empiricist philosophies are deficient. As the biologist C.H. Waddington lamented towards the end of his life: most modern philosophers have followed the wrong trail, instead of following Whitehead and his holistic and organistic philosophy they followed Russell and his atomist, mathematical philosophy.

It is this empirically oriented positivist philosophy, particularly as developed in the Anglo-Saxon countries, that has provided the philosophical justification for the ruthless, exploitative, mechanistic paradigm that has wreaked so much havoc on world ecosystems, on Third World nations, and on individuals who have attempted to mold their lives in the image of the machine. It is this version of contemporary philosophy that Eco-philosophy stands against and to which it seeks to provide an alternative.

It is important to question whether science as presently practiced can be justified when actions based upon the knowledge it generates result in major ecological, social and individual pathologies.

Science is, in fact, a form of mythology in that it has its unwritten and unproven dogmas. It accepts uncritically the scientific method, worships objective facts, deifies the pursuit of objectivity and sanctions neutrality. It is understandably difficult for us to perceive this because science is the filter or telescope through which we are accustomed to interpret the world.

To illustrate the tenets of Eco-philosophy a mandala has been constructed and contrasted with one that describes contemporary philosophy (see below).


figure 2

As we move around each diagram we notice that each component determines the next. Thus, contemporary philosophy cannot help being spiritually dead, for its universe is dead: inanimate matter, physical facts, objective logical relationships. Similarly it cannot help being socially unconcerned, politically indifferent, mute about individual responsibility, pursuing information, being environmentally oblivious, supporting material progress, oblivious of health and being hostile to transphysical phenomena.

In contrast, if we start from the premise that philosophy is life-oriented and that its mission is the enhancement of life, then the tenets of Ecophilosophy follow.

Commitment replaces objectivity because objectivity does not exist in nature. As the observer is inseparable from the observed objectivity must be recognized as a myth. Furthermore, science can only tell us how things work and how to do things, not whether to do things or how to live. The latter requires a trans-objective approach, compassion and commitment.

Commitment must be based on more than fact, it requires a spiritual component - a state of being in which we experience the world as if it were endowed with grace, as mysterious, transphysical. It encompasses awe, wonder, reverence, compassion and love. In this sense, spirituality is an instrument of the perfectibility of man. Man's essential quest is for meaning, and this is a spiritual quest, not an objective search for bits of information.

Such a search must be comprehensive. In this connection, Eco-philosophy is perceived as integrative, hierarchical and normative - self actualizing with regard to the individual and symbiotic with regard to the cosmos.

Wisdom is comprehensive with respect to knowledge. It is based on a proper understanding of the structural hierarchies within which life cycles and human cycles are nested and nurtured. Furthermore, such right knowledge is essentially unquantifiable.

Right knowledge and reverence for nature form the basis of our environmental and ecological conscience. Hence the health of the planet becomes our responsibility and cannot be delegated to specialists.

Similarly, right knowledge leads us to be concerned with the quality of life, which cannot be experienced through material consumption or secured by means of economic growth. Indeed, economics that undermines the quality of any life is in conflict with life itself.

Eco-philosophy recognizes that we make political statements not so much by how we vote but by how we live. One way to do this, for example, is to reduce the 10 lb of garbage that each of us produces each day (in North America) and so counteract the blind acceptance of wasting resources as a way of life.

1 Man is used in this summary to represent males and females. This is partly to avoid awkward sentences and partly to be true to the original text.

Society is viewed as an instrument of man's perfectibility, a mode of man's spiritual being. It cannot be fully understood by reducing it to individuals or by observing only its outward behaviour.

Responsibility is regarded as voluntaristic, but within the constraints of natural order and a compassionate understanding of the cosmos.

This understanding is based on transphysical as well as physical phenomena. Thus, it incorporates knowledge from instinct, cunning, prescience, premonition, insight, wisdom, compassion and from paranormal phenomena.

Health is regarded as a responsibility rather than a right. We are not machines to be mended when our lifestyle results in a breakdown. The Cartesian dualism of mind and matter is rejected and positive health is regarded as a consequence of being on good terms with the cosmos.

To make Eco-philosophy a reality we must work on all fronts at once - social, individual, spiritual, ecological, and political.


Ecology, as a movement, has focused on devastated environments. Humanism has focused on devastated humans. Both forms of devastation have the same cause, and both are equally visible in the Capitalist and Communist worlds. It is the Western dichotomy between the philosophies of man and nature that has led to the mistaken notion that nature is 'there' to be exploited. Ecological humanism seeks to counteract this by promoting

(1) stewardship, (2)a vision of the world as a sanctuary, the source of our culture and spiritual sustenance, and (3) the idea that right knowledge can be an intermediary between us and the creative forces of evolution.

In the scientific world view, ethics and cosmology (the way we view the universe) are separate. In the pre-scientific world, the ethics of a people and their view of the physical universe co-defined each other. Indeed, cultures are built upon the spiritual heritage that is handed down.

Within the scientific cosmology, the universe is conceived as a physical system that is knowable and without purpose, man as a machine, and values as rooted in man without transcendence. It is not surprising that individualism within our culture has become a desperate search for substitutes for our lost center. Achievements are measured in quantitative terms. Instrumental values tend to become universally applied. Thus, they have given rise to the technological imperative, which demands that man should behave according to modes dictated by technology's drive towards increasing efficiency. It is strange that few have recognized the connection between this situation and the widespread indifference most people feel for most other humans and for the planet.

Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx and Albert Schweitzer provide examples of attempts at alternative thinking. While Kant considered that the physical universe was describable by physical laws, which he believed were beyond refutation, he was aware that such knowledge would contribute nothing to man's search for meaning.

Marxism is a variation of "secular salvation" - to be achieved through material progress, science and technology -and is therefore seriously flawed. Had Marx embarked on a social and spiritual renovation, rather than a social and religious fight, history might have run a very different course.

Schwitzer recognized that the problem was one of values and proposed an ethic based on reverence for life. There is some similarity between this and the later ecological ethic, although the latter can often be reduced merely to an instrumental ethic that has long-term survival as its goal. It should be noted that there is a fundamental difference between this and Schwitzer's "Reverence for Life", which proclaims that "man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him". Note also that the Christian ethic follows from Reverence for Life, but not the converse.

Our psycho-social evolution is based on our ability to transcend the limitations of physical and biological determinants. Within the framework of the competitive free enterprise system, however, the notion of evolution is used as an ideological weapon: to justify and increase competition and exploitation; and the universe is an open market regulated by those at the top. We have a choice, either we take evolution, man and morality seriously and acknowledge thinkers such as Teilhard de Chardin, or we allow moral nihilism and relativism to prevail.

Schroedinger has already noted that "The scientific picture of the ... world ... is very deficient .... It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, ... pain and ... delight ... beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity." More recently activities on the frontiers of subatomic physics have further undermined the scientific-technological world view.

The universe is here conceived of as-evolving, mysterious, complex and exceedingly subtle in its operation, only partly knowable, and as the home of man, evolution as an exquisite series of compelling and mysterious transformations and transcendences leading to the humanization and spiritualization of primordial matters; and humans as the custodians of the whole of evolution, and at the same time only the point on the arrow of evolution. The sacredness of man is his conscious awareness of his spirituality and his inner compulsion to maintain it and to maintain our unity with the rest of the cosmos. Thus, values (in our new cosmology) are evolution-centered, and are those most refined aspects of human awareness that have made life extra-biological, spiritual and truly human.

Our new moral imperative is, therefore, to enhance evolution, life, ecosystems, consciousness, creativeness, compassion and human life. It is built on the Promethean imperative of transcendence, the Kantian imperative of celebrating evolution's highest achievements and the ecological imperative of preserving the habitat that is our home. These characteristics distinguish it from the instrumental and technological imperatives, which are concerned with efficiency rather than evolution and can only result in the "machine" dictating human behaviour.

Within this new imperative all progress is spiritual and requires selflessness and altruism through co-operation. However, no cause is regarded as grand enough to require human sacrifice if, in the process, the human being does not fulfill himself as human.

Human life cannot be nurtured, nursed and sustained unless we nurse and sustain the ecological habitat within which we reside. However, this implies taking care because the habitat is part of us and we are part of it (holistic attitude), not merely because it supports us (instrumental attitude).

  • We may be seen as actualizing God by actualizing the sensitivity-sacredness divinity latent in us.
  • we give meaning to the universe through our acquired humanity.
  • We acquire spirituality as a result of our evolutionary unfolding.
  • Our survival depends entirely on our capacity to remake the world from within.
  • "To treat man as he is, is to debase him;
  • To treat man as he ought to be is to engrace him." Goethe.


    Kant observed that theory without practice is impotent and practice without theory is blind. Architecture provides an illustrative bridge between logos and praxis.

    The architecture inspired by the mechanistic logos has failed us. Defined by economics and technology, it finds its expression in efficiency, functionality and the worship of new materials and techniques.

    Form follows culture - shell recapitulates spirit - we build inadequately because we have an inadequate culture. The culture is the filter. Thus, significant changes are not going to be accomplished either by introducing more efficient technologies or by simply manipulating architectural theory. We have to start with ourselves, with our culture - away from the linear and pseudorational to the ecological. organic and compassionate.

    The circle was the sacred shape in the Sioux system of beliefs. Thus, it is not surprising that Black Elk cried out "White men have put us in ... square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying."

    Architectural quality can be viewed at four stages: design, construction, finished buildings and people's interactions with the buildings. Unfortunately, we can assess the most important aspects of quality only a Posteriori. Furthermore, quality cannot really be broken down, for to define it is to define something less than Quality.

    These concepts were well understood by two twentieth century architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed exquisite individual houses, and Paolo Soleri, who designed whole cities called arcologies, which combine architectural, ecological. frugal and spiritual imperatives.

    Our new paradigm is an overall conceptual umbrella that includes assumptions, practices, theories, as well as criteria for judgement of finished products. The emphasis is shifted from technologv to quality of life.

    Traditionally, architecture was defined by a context in which religion and art predominated. Since the nineteenth century, economics and technology have been the determinants. We are now at the threshold of a period in which society, ecology, and spirituality will become important forces with the purpose of architecture being to continue, enhance and celebrate life. If this new paradigm is valid it should be applicable in other fields also.

    Within architecture quality means breaking away from centralization, means employing appropriate technologies, being frugal and emphasizing durability.

    We should recognize that to bring about such changes we may have to change our politicians and our social and political institutions. But we must not blame everything on "the system". That would be too easy. We must recognize ourselves as part of the equation. We must infuse ourselves with the spirit of innovation, inspiration, oneness with the environment and compassionate caring for others so that it shines through our designs and buildings and the system is transformed through our acts of creative transcendence.


    We are an adventurous civilization. But we are also a stupid civilization, afflicted with a death wish - destroying the very tissue from which society is made.

    Sooner or later, however, the life within us will alter those destructive structures - our instinct for survival or genius for life will make us redesign our institutions and relinquish our offending wants.

    There are already signs of a spiritual revival. Our humanity is the product of our mirroring in our lives the qualities we have vested in our deities qualities such as unselfishness, altruism and transcendence. Let us not be misled by the modern thinkers such as Nietzsche, Marx and others who have concentrated on the secondary and negative functions of religion. In doing so they have negated the spiritual heritage of mankind and inadvertently shrunk man's existence to his economic activities.

    We must come to see objective understanding as only a part of a larger comprehension. Interestingly, we have less difficulty employing empathy, as a mode of understanding, than in justifying it in our system of knowledge.

    Our bodies, skin, eyes and other senses are the tentacles through which we tune in to the music of evolution. To be rational is to understand the music. Here lies the wisdom which transcends mere intellectual dexterity.

    We must accept life as knowledge process.

    Recall the sad observation of the Nobel Laureate. Albert Szent Gyorgi:

    "In my hunt for the secret of life, I started my research in histology. Unsatisfied by the information that cellular morphology could give me about life, I turned to physiology. Finding physiology too complex, I took up pharmacology. Still finding the situation too complicated, I turned to bacteriology. But bacteria were even too complex, so I descended to the molecular level, studying chemistry and physical chemistry. After twenty years work, I was led to conclude that to understand life we have to descend to the electronic level, and to the world of wave mechanics. But electrons are just electrons and have no life at all. Evidently on the way I lost life; it had run out between my fingers."

    Remember that progress is made by small obstinate minorities, both at the social and evolutionary levels. Life is inexhaustible. It is not objective. It is self-transcending. To steer us into a life of sanity will require a concerted will to cooperate with life.

    The new theology underlying Ecological Humanism is that we are God-in-the-process-of-becoming. We possess the potential for making ourselves into spiritual beings. Furthermore, we are striving towards the actualization of something much greater than our individual selves.

    These are our new myths. Their value and viability are to be judged by the inspiration they provide and the sustaining power they can generate. We have nowhere to go with the deterministic boxes of the mechanistic universe.

    The inventiveness of nature is part of its modus operandi. The cunning of life is infinite. It uses us to perpetuate itself. To understand life, we have to understand evolution. To understand evolution we have to understand life. The knowledge of evolution is the beginning of wisdom. To submit to evolution and the flow of life is not resignation or slavery but an enlightenment and a deeper comprehension of the human condition. In our understanding of this we are now only toddlers. But we shall learn the awesome responsibility of accepting ourselves as fragments of God in the process of becoming - mostly because we have no other choice.

    Copyright 1981 Ecological Agriculture Projects

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