Chapter 3: Physiology: The Mythos and Logos of Life in Antiquity
Chapter 3Physiology: The Mythos and Logos of Life in Antiquity
The Greek philosophical tradition thought of the world as, first and foremost, an overarching order: at once harmonious, just, beautiful, and good. The word ‘cosmos’ connotes all of this. For the Stoics, for example, the universe resembles a magnificent living organism. If we want to get an idea of this, we might think of what doctors or physiologists or biologists discover when they dissect a rabbit or a mouse. What is better constructed than an eye for seeing, than lungs for oxygenating the muscles, than a heart for pumping blood via an irrigation system? These organs are a thousand times more ingenious, more harmonious and complex, than almost all of the machines devised by man. Moreover, our biologist discovers something else: that the ensemble of these organs, which considered individually are sufficiently astonishing, together form a quite perfect and ‘logical’ whole – what the Stoics indeed named the logos, to refer to the coherent ordering of the world as well as to verbal discourse – and a whole that is infinitely superior again to any human invention.
– Luc Ferry, The Wisdom of the Myths (2014)
The idiom physis, as we have seen, is deeply rooted in the Proto-Indo-European semantic notions of “being,” “existence,” “birth,” “conception,” “genesis,” “generation,” “growth” – all manifestations of what we know as life. Over time, this word-form evolved to stand for the characteristics, the features, the qualities – the essence – of things in the...
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