The Stoic Notion of Cosmic Sympathy in Contemporary Environmental Ethics

In Antiquity, Modern World and Reception of Ancient Culture. Belgrade: pp. 290-305 (2012)
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The later Stoics, especially – and most notably – Posidonius of Apamea, allegedly the greatest polymath of his age and the last in a celebrated line of great philosophers of the ancient world, gradually developed the belief that all parts of the universe, either ensouled or not, were actually interconnected due to the omnipresent, corporeal, primordial kosmikon pyr which, according to Stoicism, pervades each being as the honey pervades the honeycomb. As for reasonable beings, in particular, kosmikon pyr takes the form of logos. Due to that power, Posidonius believes, the phases of moon, for instance, can affect the succession of tides and ebb–tides; on the same grounds, the signs can have major effect on the course of events and, therefore, allow for divination. That kind of interconnectedness, apart from justifying the interdependentness of all beings to each other, testifies for an utter kinship between them, for sympatheia. In this short paper I intent to show that Posidonius’s approach has been promptly adopted and utilized by modern holistic theories concerning Environmental Ethics, especially by Arne Naess’s Deep Ecology and Ecosophy T, in the context of which notions such as kinship, interconnectedness, interdependentness and identification of all beings are key parameters for the articulation of their argumentation. I also intent to outline some essential – in my opinion – differences in the way Posidonius and Naess make use of the notion of interconnectedness, together with some inconsistencies which can be potentially fatal, at least as far as a system of ethics is concerned. This is because notions such as cosmic sympathy may possibly establish an interesting, even charming and influential cosmology or metaphysics, but when it comes to ethics, in my opinion, they can only provide shaky grounds for establishing a firm one, since they allow for deterministic views, which more or less leave no room for personal responsibility, to wit for personal praise or blame.


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