The notion of intrinsic valueEdit

Some people criticize the notion that the intrinsic value of ecological systems exists independently of humanity's recognition of it. An example of this approach is that one might say that a work of art is only valuable insofar as humans perceive it to be worthwhile. Such people claim that the ecosystem's value does not reach beyond our appreciation of it. Intrinsic value is a philosophical concept which some do not accept.[1] However, intrinsic value defined as value existing separate from human thought may in this case be conflated with intrinsic value defined as natural worth existing independent of modification or application of a substance or entity, clouding the argument. This entire argument, however, assumes both the primacy and uniqueness of the ability of humans to create value, as opposed to a collection of sentient beings dependent on a perfectly ordered system for life or even a natural system devoid of sentient life being incapable of possessing inherent value. It also is a result of the confusion between anthropogenic - something being created by humans, and anthropocentric - exclusive value being given to humans.

Interests in natureEdit

For something to require rights and protection intrinsically, it must have interests.[2] Deep ecology is criticized for presuming that plants, for example, have their own interests. Deep ecologists claim to identify with the environment, and in doing so, criticize those who claim they have no understanding what the environment's interests are. The criticism is that the interests that a deep ecologist purports to give to nature, such as growth, survival, balance are really human interests. "The earth is endowed with 'wisdom', wilderness equates with 'freedom', and life forms are said to emit 'moral' qualities."[3] It has also been argued that species and ecosystems themselves have rights.[4] However, the overarching criticism assumes that humans, in governing their own affairs, are somehow immune from this same assumption; i.e. how can governing humans truly presume to understand the interests of the rest of humanity. While the deep ecologist critic would answer that the logical application of language and social mores would provide this justification, i.e. voting patterns etc, the deep ecologist would note that these "interests" are ultimately observable solely from the logical application of the behavior of the life form, which is the same standard used by deep ecologists to perceive the standard of interests for the natural world.


Deep ecology is criticized for its claim to be deeper than alternative theories, which by implication are shallow. However despite repeated complaints about use of the term it still enjoys wide currency; deep evidently has an attractive resonance for many who seek to establish a new ethical framework for guiding human action with respect to the natural world. It may be presumptuous to assert that one's thinking is deeper than others'. When Arne Næss coined the term deep ecology he compared it favourably with shallow environmentalism which he criticized for its utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude to nature and for its materialist and consumer-oriented outlook.[5][6] Against this is Arne Næss's own view that the "depth" of deep ecology resides in the persistence of its interrogative questioning, particularly in asking "Why?" when faced with initial answers.

Ecofeminist responseEdit

Both ecofeminism and deep ecology put forward a new conceptualization of the self. Some ecofeminists, such as Marti Kheel,[7] argue that self-realization and identification with all nature places too much emphasis on the whole, at the expense of the independent being. Ecofeminists contend that their concept of the self (as a dynamic process consisting of relations) is superior. Ecofeminists would also place more emphasis on the problem of androcentrism rather than anthropocentrism.

Misunderstanding scientific informationEdit

Daniel Botkin[8] has likened deep ecology to its antithesis, the wise use movement, when he says that they both "misunderstand scientific information and then arrive at conclusions based on their misunderstanding, which are in turn used as justification for their ideologies. Both begin with an ideology and are political and social in focus." Elsewhere though, he asserts that deep ecology must be taken seriously in the debate about the relationship between humans and nature because it challenges the fundamental assumptions of western philosophy. Botkin has also criticized Næss's restatement and reliance upon the balance of nature idea and the perceived contradiction between his argument that all species are morally equal and his disparaging description of pioneering species.

"Shallow" View superiorEdit

Writer William Grey believes that developing a non-anthropocentric set of values is "a hopeless quest" He seeks an improved "shallow" view, writing, "What's wrong with shallow views is not their concern about the well-being of humans, but that they do not really consider enough in what that well-being consists. We need to develop an enriched, fortified anthropocentric notion of human interest to replace the dominant short-term, sectional and self-regarding conception."[9]

Deep ecology as not "deep" enoughEdit

Social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin[10] claim that deep ecology fails to link environmental crises with authoritarianism and hierarchy. Social ecologists believe that environmental problems are firmly rooted in the manner of human social interaction, and protest that an ecologically sustainable society could still be socially exploitative. Deep ecologists reject the argument that ecological behavior is rooted in the social paradigm (according to their view, that is an anthropocentric fallacy), and they maintain that the converse of the social ecologists' objection is also true in that it is equally possible for a socially egalitarian society to continue to exploit the Earth.

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