CFP: Animals and the Environment in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy

Submission deadline: July 3, 2023

Conference date(s):
November 8, 2023 - November 10, 2023

Go to the conference's page

This event is online


In ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, we see a diverse range of perspectives on, and great interest in, animals, nature and the natural world, and in related environmental issues, such as sustainability. Despite this, environmental ethicists and philosophers have often dismissed the relevance of ancient philosophy to contemporary environmental debates and issues. Environmental philosophers have often claimed that ancient Greek philosophy – at least in its canonical forms – is part of the problem in environmental terms that has contributed significantly to the subsequent prevalence of anthropocentrism in western philosophy and culture. Plato, who has had a profound influence on the western philosophical tradition, is sometimes seen as epitomising this anthropocentrism because of his apparent emphasis on dualism, championing of reason, and his apparent anti–female and anti–body stance Consequently, it is thought that he diminished the importance of the natural or ‘sensible’ world primarily because of his theory of Forms which postulates the existence of an ideal, immaterial world beyond the world of the senses and accords a greater value to the former (cf. Mahoney 1997: 45-54). Aristotle’s philosophy has also been characterised as anthropocentric, based on his statement that animals and plants are ‘for the sake of’ humans in the Politics. Some consider the way he separates humans beings as rational from others living things as perceptive and nutritive to have been influential. Stoic philosophers are often seen as drawing on Aristotle in support of their own anthropocentric philosophical positions.

However, recent scholarship in Classics and Ancient Philosophy has begun to call into question and challenge this characterisation of ancient philosophy and its relevance to environmental issues and concerns. To take but a few of these important works, The Greeks and the Environment, edited by Laura Westra and Thomas M. Robinson, suggested provocative new ways of relating ancient Greek philosophy to ecology and

environmentalism. More recently, Melissa Lane’s Eco-Republic: What the Ancients can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living, has re-assessed Plato’s Republic as a useful and provocative work to think through environmental and related issues, including climate change, and seeks to refashion the political imagination toward a more environmentally sustainable way of living, while Mark Usher’s Plato’s Pigs and Other Ruminations: Ancient Guides to Living with Nature suggests that we can find in the lives and thought of ancient philosophers a close engagement with nature and an understanding of human knowledge and experience that is based on whole systems and, in relation to this, values and practices that are conducive to sustainable living. With regard to Aristotle, on-going research on his zoological writings continues to reveal his focus on the capacities of organisms, living in their natural environments, including much cognitive sophistication (most recently: The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Biology, edited by Sophia Connell; Aristotle On How Animals Move. Edited by Andrea Falcon and Stasinos Stavrianeas). Aristotle’s focus in these work is on animals’ independent goods and values, quite apart from any service they provide to human beings.

This conference seeks to expand on these developments and re-assessments of the relevance of ancient philosophy to contemporary environmental debates, issues and problems. We welcome all papers, but especially encourage (1) those which focus on philosophers and/or philosophical schools whose approach towards animals and the natural world has been under-investigated in scholarship to date, including those usually excluded from the traditional ‘canon’ of ancient philosophy and those which focus on late antiquity; (2) those which seek to find positive approaches and solutions to environmental issues and debates in ancient philosophy; (3) those which utilise postcolonial and/or indigenous methodologies or perspectives to analyse ancient philosophical thought, and (4) those which explore the intersections between ancient Greek or Roman philosophy and ancient religions and/or literature, including tragedy. We welcome papers from postgraduate students, early career researchers, and independent scholars, as well as from established academics. We aim to be inclusive and especially encourage submissions from scholars and students in underrepresented groups.

Submission of Abstracts

Please send abstracts (of no more than 300 words) for a 30-minute paper to Crystal Addey ([email protected]) and Sophia Connell ([email protected]) by Monday 3rd July 2023. Please submit your abstract as an attachment without your name, institutional affiliation or other identifying information. Please include your name and institution in your email. You will be notified of decisions by 1st August 2023.

Please note that this conference will take place online (via Zoom) and by submitting an abstract, you agree that you will have access to a device and a good internet connection in order to present your paper online.

Select Bibliography

Connell, Sophia (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Falcon, Andrea and Stasinos Stavrianeas (eds.) Aristotle On How Animals Move. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Hughes, J.D. Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans: Ecology in the Ancient Mediterranean, 2nd edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Lane, Melissa, Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue and Sustainable Living, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Mahoney, Timothy. “Platonic Ecology, Deep Ecology.” In The Greeks and the Environment, edited by Laura Westra and Thomas M. Robinson. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997, 45-54.

Usher, Mark, Plato’s Pigs and Other Ruminations: Ancient Guides to Living with Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Westra, Laura, and Robinson, Thomas M., The Greeks and the Environment, London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)