Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to an Oregon State Professor of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, if we re-embraced the ancient indigenous worldview of living spiritual life in every tree and rock, we would be less likely to bulldoze the sacred grove.
How ideas from ancient Greek philosophy may have driven civilization toward climate change
October 20, 2021 11.43pm AED
Wildfires driven by increasing winds and unprecedented heat surrounded Athens, Greece, this past summer, blanketing its ancient marble monuments and olive groves with ash and acrid smoke. These are the same places where philosophers gathered almost 2,500 years ago to debate questions about the nature of matter and morality.
The Atomists’ perilous path
The early Greek philosophers were primarily interested in two kinds of questions. The first kind was metaphysical: What is the world? The second kind was ethical: What is a good person? The two sorts of questions were intertwined, as the physical description of the world shaped humanity’s place in it.
If the world is only matter, it has no purpose or intentionality, no divine design or intervention, no spirit or sanctity. It’s just stuff moving around or not, crashing or not. The particles operate according to mechanistic laws, as expressed by the principles of geometry. Consequently, the world has no emergent qualities – soul, mind, consciousness – that cannot be expressed in numbers.
In that view, the world is profane, a word that comes from “profanum,” meaning “outside the temple.” There is nothing special about it, nothing inspiring respect or veneration.
An open door to exploitation and waste
Before the Atomists, early Greeks generally did not draw a sharp distinction between the material and the spiritual worlds. In their view, everything – river, mountain, child, tree – is enlivened by a life force.
But the mechanistic, reductionist, matter-in-motion worldview stripped the spirit from the natural world. In doing so, it also stripped the world’s inherent value. The world became unremarkable, reducible, explainable, ownable, for sale. And so, the mechanistic worldview opened the door to exploitation, waste and abuse.
Over time, this worldview became deeply embedded in Western thought. And so human enterprise, following this view, could damage and destroy the matter of the world and offend no god, value or sacred place.
With a new worldview, or one inspired by ancient Indigenous cultures, we believe it may be possible for Western civilization to free itself from the old materialism and restore life, spirit, purpose, value – and thus, some measure of protection – to the substance of the planet. Consider alternative answers to the two great questions:
Reconsider: What is the world?
…Read more: https://theconversation.com/how-ideas-from-ancient-greek-philosophy-may-have-driven-civilization-toward-climate-change-169714
I strongly suspect the Greek innovation was an effect rather than a cause.
The origins of engineering are lost in the mists of time, a few fragments such as the name Imhotep, an ancient engineer who lived 3000 years ago and likely pioneered the use of columns in large buildings. But something changed.
For most of the 300,000 year history of homo sapiens, the lifestyle of our ancestors was pretty much the same – hunter gatherer, crude farming or fishing villages. But we went from building crude huts to pyramids and wheeled vehicles in an eye blink of time.
Part of that may have been greater availability of resources with the end of the last ice age. Perhaps something in humans changed, a new way of thinking, or perhaps even a mutation which changed us, which drained the nature spirits from our worldview, gave some of us at least the ability to appreciate the world from a functional perspective.
My point is, I doubt we could turn back the clock even if we wanted to. The age of sacred groves, dryads and fairies is all but gone. The climate movement, with its yearning for personified nature, is perhaps the last gasp of this ancient tradition. The age of marvels is upon us.