“Cosmos” is one of the most important and most deeply misunderstood words in our vocabulary. In common use, it designates the stars and planets beyond Earth, realms accessible only by telescopes or the most futuristic of technologies. But the complex history of this ancient word suggests that it has much more to teach us—indeed, that we need it now more than ever, for popular usage masks its long history as humanity’s oldest ecological vision of our planet.

In ancient Greece, “kosmos” meant not “the universe”—for this the Greeks used “τò πᾶν,” “the all”—but rather, the universe comprehended as a unified system that was both ordered and beautiful. How, they asked, did this this system come into being? Of what did it consist, what was its fate? Their answers elaborated a plethora of possibilities that initiated what we now call “science.” Kosmoi were variously imagined as finite …

This essay may be found on page 47 of the printed volume.

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