Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas
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Explores the ancient and perennial notion of the four elements as environmental ideas.
Bachelard called them "the hormones of the imagination. " Hegel observed that, "through the four elements we have the elevation of sensuous ideas into thought. " Earth, air, fire, and water are explored as both philosophical ideas and environmental issues associated with their classical and perennial conceptions. David Macauley embarks upon a wide-ranging discussion of their initial appearance in ancient Greek thought as mythic forces or scientific principles to their recent reemergence within contemporary continental philosophy as a means for understanding landscape and language, poetry and place, the body and the body politic. In so doing, he shows the importance of elemental thinking for comprehending and responding to ecological problems. In tracing changing views of the four elements through the history of ideas, Macauley generates a new vocabulary for and a fresh vision of the environment while engaging the elemental world directly with reflections on their various manifestations.
David Macauley is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at Penn State University, Brandywine. He is the editor of Minding Nature: The Philosophers of Ecology.
"...David Macauley tries to combat our overly simplistic view of nature by recovering a nuanced understanding of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water … a thoughtful, serious, and engaging work." — Environmental Ethics
"…Macauley's immense book Elemental Philosophy, is an homage to a different and seemingly unfamiliar sensibility in which earth, air, fire and water … animate human thought and action. It is, at times, a beautiful, informative and transformative meditation on how to interpret and live with the natural world … Macauley lovingly infuses the text with elements beyond and between the four, and provides readers with an opportunity to look anew at the connections among the elements themselves and our own lives intertwined with them. These interstices are gems." — Essays in Philosophy
"Macauley enriches his text by including passages from appropriate poems … [and] demonstrates a thorough knowledge of ancient philosophy." — Philosophy in Review
"Stimulating and provocative … An inspiring addition to the book is a series of 'interstices'—shorter meditations on various manifestations of the elements, like stone, wood, ice, and cloud, among others." — CHOICE
"Freighted with erudition yet buoyant with spirited wordplay, Macauley's intellectual history of the four elements is a delightful tour de force of environmental philosophy." — Seven Pillars House of Wisdom
"The book is a multidisciplinary achievement which attests to the author's thorough acquaintance with, inter alia, ancient Greek cosmology, contemporary environmental philosophy, and literary and artistic traditions." — Environmental Values
"…a very serious book of philosophy. It's also wonderfully comprehensive, impressively resourceful and superbly imaginative—yet down-to-earth—in bringing the loftiest philosophical thoughts about earth, air, fire, and water together with the excrement, breezes, stoves, and water fountains we live with." — Carlin Romano, Chronicle of Higher Education
"A stunning piece of grounded philosophy. A perception-changing book that begins with elemental things and grows into a profound meditation on humans in nature." — David W. Orr, author of Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse
"One might suppose, in these days of quarks and black holes, that ancient Greek reflections on the elements of their landscape—fire, air, earth, and water—were too elementary to be worth recalling. Not so. David Macauley demonstrates their surprising relevance. Earth, air, water—even fire (energy, global warming)—are still central to the world agenda: sustaining life in a millennium of ecological crisis. From that day to this, wise philosophers keep their thoughts in touch with the sensuous, elemental Earth." — Holmes Rolston III, author of Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World
"With his voluminous knowledge and deep understanding of the history of philosophy, David Macauley brings the classical elements to life by showing their renewed relevance to the pressing problems of our age. His knowledge is immense, and his nuance for interconnections is tremendous. This is a great work of philosophy." — David Rothenberg, author of Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
"This highly original study pursues the migration of philosophical thought on and through the elemental environmental ideas of earth, air, fire, and water across the length of its twenty-five hundred year history, from Empedocles to the present day. But this is no inquiry merely into the history of these ancient ideas, but rather testimony to their continuing fecundity in living experience. They give sensuous specificity to the pallid idea of "nature" and concretize environmental abstractions. Rich with broad learning and illustrative detail evoking the many kinds of wonder—sensuous, poetic, cognitive, scientific, reverential—in experiencing the elements, Macauley's writing projects a wide landscape for exploring the many strata of meaning in environmental experience." — Arnold Berleant, author of Sensibility and Sense: The Aesthetic Transformation of the Human World
"David Macauley's Elemental Philosophy is a wonderfully well-written tour de force. It combines close analysis of ancient philosophical sources with contemporary materials of astonishing intellectual breadth. This interdisciplinary work possesses theoretical rigor, cosmopolitan scope, and literary sophistication. It will appeal to general readers who may relish, as I have, this powerful invitation for philosophical regrounding and lyrical reflection about basic elemental principles that are critical to living wisely and well on planet earth today." — Eric W. Orts, University of Pennsylvania
"After industrialization, knowledge became fragmented and people lost touch with the material realities of the places in which they lived. David Macauley blends ancient Greek precepts with twenty-first century circumstances: earth, air, fire, and water call upon us from across the millennia to reanimate humanity's connection to our home planet." — David Spanagel, Worcester Polytechnic Institute