Environmental Ethics in Ancient Greek Philosophy: 5 Things You Need to Know

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By John Voutos

Ancient Greek philosophers provided the basis for environmental protection and environmental ethics. These ethics are inherent in the history of Western philosophy. The Greek herald has five facts you should know about environmental ethics in ancient Greek philosophy.

Anthropocentric Views | They saw people as the most important thing.

The ancient Greek philosophers, especially pre-Socratic philosophy, proposed a hierarchical structure of nature that put man first and foremost. Plato and Aristotle prominently represent this opinion in their respective dialogues Timaeus (360 BC) and Generation of animals (Mid 300 BC).

Hylozoistic views | They believed that all matter has life.

Many ancient Greek philosophers represented hylozoistic worldviews. That means that all matter has life.

In particular Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes tried to explain the basic form of the substance from a naturalistic point of view, namely that nature is “animated” as an intelligent, living organism.

Holistic connectedness | They believed that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

The ancient Greek philosophers took a holistic perspective. That is, as Aristotle is known in metaphysics (350 BC), that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”.

Above all, Aristotle and Plato viewed the world and every being as interconnected and part of a teleologically organized whole of God’s creation. The holistic perspective can also be found in organism, in systems theory and in semantic holism.

Human intervention | They did not believe that human intervention was necessary.

According to the ancient Greek philosophers, human intervention was not considered or needed. No responsibility for the maintenance or reorganization of nature was ascribed to humans. In fact, the ancient Greek philosophers usually made nature available to humans.

While these views can now be interpreted as “environmentally hostile” or “counterproductive”, ancient Greek philosophy emphasizes a deep respect for the intrinsic value of nature and Plato Laws (around 300-400 BC) tells us to respect the environment.

Religious instead of scientific | Religion played an important role.

The ancient Greek attitude towards the environment was more religious than scientific. Plato, for example, viewed nature as planned or shaped by a higher power and his Socratic dialogue The Republic (375 BC) regarded the planetary rotation as a model for the human soul.


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