Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 11, 2018

Environmental Philosophy

Michail Mantzanas
Pages 83-93

The Stoic Notion of “Living according to nature” and its Influence on Arne Naess’s Environmental Philosophy

The maxim of “living in accordance with cosmic nature” is fundamental to the theories of the Stoics. Nature is the entire external universe and it is composed of both incorporeal matter and material substance, i.e., plants, animals and human beings. Nature is all beings and all things, but their substance and their existence are both independent from human free will. The pervasive influence of nature is reflected on the Stoic body of doctrine in the same way that the perception of nature is related to the ideas of the unity of the world and the totality of the coexistence of beings and incorporeal extra-beings. Stoic thinkers placed a great value on the idea of nature and identified it with cosmos or the universe. Nature is conceived to be all-inclusive and it is made up out of all kinds of beings and bodies, including the incorporeal ones which are also part of the universe. According to Stoics, nature and the universe as a whole are divine in essence with both inherent and functional properties. Stoics, who are regarded as pantheists, held the view that the cosmos is conceived of as divine and that it is interrelated with God, in the sense that God is the universe and acts as a spirit within nature and human life in the form of “cosmic reason”. All is ordained by reason, cosmic reason exists in the physical world and “logos” directs human beings. For Stoics the pantheists, nature is sacred and holy and human beings will not be able to attain eudaimonia if they do not strive to live in accordance with nature and free from all externals, which, in its turn, is achieved through “Logos”, as the latter is interconnected with man’s existence. The Stoic philosophy espouses that the individual human nature is part of the cosmic and universal nature. God, nature and man are all integral parts of the universe. Living according to nature is synonymous to conforming to the laws of the Divine Logos, i.e., the knowledge of the truth in the world. One lives according to nature when they follow the dictations of reason, that is, according to their potential which grow into abilities. In accord with the Stoic belief that there is a chain of causes and effects encompassing all, individual reason paves the way for everyone to achieve eudaimonia and not only the being who possesses it. Living in accord with nature consists in functions which are dictated by reason and appropriate acts that are in agreement with individual nature. It is only by the aforementioned means that man’s nature can attain wisdom and the rational part of the soul can in its turn perform acts directed by reason, free from passions. The moral tenet that is central to Stoic ethics is the one which supports the belief that growth of reason comes only from living in accord with nature and logos, alike, is only achieved through living in agreement with nature. In order to explore and understand the relevance of the aforementioned stoic tenet to modern environmental reality a major question must be addressed. To what extent could the stoic theory related to living in accordance with nature have influenced Arne Naess in developing his modern environmental ethics? This work will assume that stoic philosophy had a great impact on Arne Naess ecophilosophy and will hopefully shed light on this significant issue. Naess argues that metaphysics and science can coexist and in this way contribute to the development of a holistic system of thought. The system proposed by Naess places emphasis on ecocentric as well as human values, namely harmonious coexistence, altruism, solidarity and peace. Naess rejects the egocentric aspect of environmental philosophy and stresses the significant of biodiversity and biocommunity. Naess attaches a metaphysical dimension and an assessment perspective to ecophilosophy. In his philosophical framework, all beings and all things, both material and immaterial, either divine or human can coexist in harmony. It is this very coexistence which best illustrates Naess’s ecoethics.