Ethics and the common good: A preview of an interview with Fritjof Capra

Even though he has taken over two years to return to Schumacher College, a cutting edge centre for sustainable living in the southwest of England, I believe that Fritjof Capra came back at the right time. The Austrian physicist and systems theorist, author of bestsellers such as The Tao of Physics and The Web of Life is also an environmental activist well known for elucidating a scientific understanding of the interrelatedness of all living beings. Science still to explain the wholeness of the phenomenon of Life as a reflection of the systemic nature of reality. However, some say that it has the power to influence necessary changes in mindset, agency and behaviour while supporting us in creating conditions conducive to life on the planet, what will happen as we step into our roles of stewards.

Last April I joined an international group of 30 participants for a weekend of Mind, Matter and Life: An Unified Systemic View. The course presented the same content as his online Capra Course and latest book The Systems View of Life but with the advantage of live interaction and engaging discussions with the very interesting people. I was lucky enough to sit outside of the College for lunch in his company, listening to stories of friendship with scientists as Lynn Margulis and Francisco Varela and his joy in bringing his daughter to run through the fields of rural Devon.

This refreshing atmosphere incubated a new understanding of ethics, which I previously regarded as labelling human behaviour as right or wrong, thus feeding a binary way of thinking. Having graduated with a MSc in Holistic Science last summer, my interest in conservation and action for climate converged through my internship at Gaia Foundation. It was a way of exploring a whole new field and theoretical basis to legal systems that supports the attribution of personhood to rivers, mountains and other living ecosystems under the concept of Earth Jurisprudence. I am grateful for the chance of interviewing Fritjof, an idea I had after dialoguing with our group on indigenous knowledge and some of our experiences within academia — many of us coming from a scientific background. His humble attitude was expressed through his inspiring view of an all-encompassing ethics. Furthermore, his offer of help to those willing to experience the world through the lenses of systems thinking is a fertile closing to the coming interview.

Rafaela Scheiffer: The first question I would like to address is about the connections I see between your work on a Systems View of Life and the work of Thomas Berry. Berry says that the “Earth gives rights to us humans through the Universe by bringing us into existence” and that “the Earth is a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects”. I would like to check with you whether you agree.

Fritjof Capra: Well, when we look at the Earth from a scientific perspective we see the planet as a whole living system, what is establish now as the Gaia Theory. Within this living system, there are smaller living systems. There are biomes, within the biomes there are ecosystems, within the ecosystems are organisms or species. Then, within an organism there are parts of the organism like tissues, organs, muscles and so on. All that are living systems at various levels. Then there are communities of organisms. So, basically there are three kinds of living systems: organisms, parts of organisms and communities of organisms. The communities of organisms can be a single species, like an ant-view likely woven or a bee hive for instance or, of course, human communities, human social systems. All these communities together in the biosphere of the planet form what we can call the community of life. This is the term I usually use and is also used in the Earth Charter, that I spoke about in the course. I am a member of the Earth Charter Council and I find this a very good term to speak about the community of life that we should respect and honour.

R.S: Do you think somehow science could make a contribution in terms of environmental laws for conservation, bearing in mind challenges such as the rise of neoliberalism?

F.C: Yes, absolutely. It has to make a contribution, because if the law is based on an ethical way of living, living together in community with the entire community of life, then science can tell you what that means. Either we talk about the community of life, what does that mean and living systems within other systems, communities within communities then science can present this picture and really describe the situation. Then laws can be derived from that situation, science has a very important role to play.

R.S: In your course you bring a perspective of ethics as a result of our belonging to a larger community of beings, the whole planet. Could you talk a little bit more on what we currently take as ethics and community ethics?

This interview is available to be published on a newspaper or magazine. A version in portuguese is also available. To inquiry, please email

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