Sunday, January 30, 2011


Seneca seems to be an environmentalist, but a strange one. He maintains that nature is under man's domain. In On Benefits, he writes:
So many pleasant groves; fruitful and salutary plants; so many fair rivers that serve us, both for recreation, plenty, and commerce: vicissitudes of seasons; varieties of food, by nature made ready to our hands, and the whole creation itself subjected to mankind for health, medicine and dominion.
But he also gives this amazing portrayal of environmental destruction, in Of a Happy Life:
How long shall we covet and oppress, enlarge our possessions, and account that too little for one man which was formerly enough for a nation? And our luxury is as insatiable as our avarice. Where is that lake, that sea, that forest, that spot of land; that is not ransacked to gratify our palate? The very earth is burdened with our buildings; not a river, not a mountain, escapes us. Oh, that there should be such boundless desires in our little bodies! Would not fewer lodgings serve us? We lie but in one, and where we are not, that is not properly ours. What with our hooks, snares, nets, dogs, etc., we are at war with all living creatures; and nothing comes amiss but that which is either too cheap, or too common; and all this is to gratify a fantastical palate. Our avarice, our ambition, our lusts, are insatiable; we enlarge our possession, swell our families, we rifle sea and land for matter of ornament and luxury. A bull contents himself with one meadow, and one forest is enough for a thousand elephants; but the little body of a man devours more than all other living creatures.
Wow. This section has got to be one of my favorite Stoic writings. Notice he doesn't blame businesses, the government, or society. He places the blame on us, and our desires. Stoicism is a cure, but only on an individual level.

The Stoics can see the problem, but even they do not seem to believe that Stoicism will ever be universal. Because of this, it is not a practical solution for environmental problems. But all those that can recognize the truth, and can curb their own appetites should do so. Limiting our desires will not only help the environment, it will make us lead better lives.

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