mountaineer and philosopher
A climber and a boxer, a philosopher and an environmentalist, Arne Næss reminds us of the important role nature plays in our lives as part of nature and taking responsibility for it.
It is not a contradiction that a philosopher becomes a mountain climber, or reverse, a mountain climber becomes a philosopher. It’s all a matter of perspective, to look at/consider things from above – to find peace to reflect on life in general and your own life in particular. How everything is connected: human beings, animals, trees, plants, insects …
Næss early discovered that these thoughts were extremely important to him, and they became his lifelong task.
Arne Næss was born in 1912. He grew up as the youngest of four siblings in a wealthy home in Kristiania (Oslo).
His early passion for outdoor living was probably awakened due to the fact that nature was literally
outside his bedroom window, giving him easy access to walks in the woods at summertime and skiing in nearby tracks during winter time.
Arne Næss was a philosopher long before attending school. He was constantly thinking, always wondering, always curious, why this, why that, what is the answer to this? How does nature fit in with us, and what is our place in nature?
The curiosity characterized him through his life.
At 21, he graduated from The University of Oslo with a magister degree in philosophy with supplementary in maths and astronomy. In 1938 he was the youngest professor in philosophy ever having graduated from The University of Oslo, 27 years old.
However, at the same time, as he studied hard to become a professor, he needed a large dose of nature input. His affection for mountaineering was awakened at the age of 14, when he was introduced to Jotunheimen:
«I couldn’t understand that all this, this vastness, these great mountains, was not created by humans. It was the size that impressed me».
As soon as Arne Næss got the position as a professor of philosophy at The University of Oslo, he bought a piece of land and built a cabin at Tvergastein close to Hallingskarvet, where Arne Næss could worship his passion for solitude and at the same time spend time on outdoor activities like trekking, climbing and skiing. The cabin gave him space to ponder and there was «minimum fuel consumption, maximum view, minimum triviality, maximum self-esteem, minimum chitchat, maximum deep contemplation».
His climbing- and outdoor passion led to several expeditions, both domestic and abroad. In 1936, he first conquered the Sørpillaren and Sydøstruten on Stetind in The County of Nordland together with his wife Else Hertzberg and later The Holter-Næss-pillar at Søre Dyrhaugstind.
During this trip, they tested a new climbing technique involving bolts for both fuse and propulsion. Næss had learned the technique during his visit to Austria, and now introduced this in Norway as well.
This technique revolutionized challenging mountain climbing in Norway.
Later on, Arne Næss led several climbing expeditions, including the Himalayas. What many consider to be his greatest climbing achievement, is the first climbing he performed in 1950 at Tirich Mir, the 7708-meter high mountain peak in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan.
Arne Næss was very important for the development of Norwegian climbing; both through the introduction of new climbing methods, but also through its many demanding first ascents in the high mountains at Kolsåstoppen in Bærum, just outside of Oslo.
To conquer a summit was never important to Arne Næss, he considered that more as part of an egoistic achievement than just enjoying the purity of nature.
The only thing that mattered to him was to be with the mountain, be a part of it.
And what was Arne Næss’ philosophy?
He was concerned with practical philosophy; to put ideas and principles into practice through action. He was the founder of the deep ecology in which he pointed out the necessity of each one of us living and acting on the understanding that we are part of a living ecosystem, in which we are all dependent on each other. According to Næss, every being, whether human, animal, or vegetable has an equal right to live and to blossom.
Although having been an active boxer throughout his life, Arne Næss was also a keen fan of Gandhi's nonviolent methods.
After stepping down from his university post in 1970, he became active in protecting the environment, writing extensively about the subject and joining protest demonstrations.
When Arne Næss died in 2009, 96 years old, his friend Inga Bostad summarised the legend like this:
«He was a perpetual source of inspiration, a playful coach, an all-around troublemaker and an intellectual explorer».
To many people, the image of Arne Næss is an angel Gandhi-like man with white hair. He was an enthusiast, always smiling, gesturing, vital, busy, talking, listening ... And he always wore sweaters. He once said when being asked in an interview how he wanted to be remembered:
«As the man in the sweater».
Arne Dekke Eide Næss 27. January 1912 – 12. January 2009
Climber, philosopher and author and founder of ecosophy
He has published several books and articles
Facts Arne Næss
- The Nordic Council’s nature and environment prize 2002
- Commander of The Order of the Royal Norwegian St. Olav 2005
- The Arne Næss Centre of Ecology and Philosophy (ANCEP), located in Norway, is an organization focusing on the philosophical heritage of Arne Næss, which was founded in 1998
- Honorary member of DNT