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Conflicting sources of our
ambivalent attitudes about nature.

AncientLucretius | Plato | African traditions observed | early modern ideas | Aristotle | Darwin


deforestation in the Himalayan Hill Country, of northern India and southern Nepal.


"We are the absolute masters of what the earth produces".

In short, "by our hands we endeavor, by our various operations on this world, to make, as it were, another nature." (p.32)

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John Evelyn
(Fumifugium; 1661) 1620-1706 (45)

"London restoration 1660s-1680s her inhabitants breath nothing but an impure and thick mist, accompanied by a fuliginous and filthy vapor Corrupting the lungs and disordering the entire habit of their bodies.

{Order of Heaven} (46) It is this horrid smoke which obscures our churches ­ which fouls our clothes and corrupts the waters, so as the very Rain, "which, with its black and tenacious quality, spots and contaminates whatever is exposed to it".

Planting and preserving woods and copses (common forested areas), and Trades are manifest nuisances Brewers, dyers, Soap and Salt boilers, Lime burners Is this a model for Environmental Protest?

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Sir James Frazier
on the Golden Bough and the significance of forested lands. (28)

Africa The Bobo peoples of French Sudan They practiced a worship of trees Tree symbolizes both features in their minds at the same time. At once the Tree Earth Forest The Earth The Forest produce a good crop in which the spirit of the forest is believed to reside Earth and Forest the 2 great divinities of productivity (29) How many spirits require propitiation today in our confusion of Land to resources and materials to be conspicuously consumed.

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Lucretius (37)

The power of life is broken and the earth exhausted scarce produces tiny creatures "but the same with generated them which feeds the now form herself."

"all things gradually decay, and go to the tomb outworn by the ancient lapse of years."

Origin of decline, decay, demise of civilization. Lucretius said all things begin from seeds,

Derek Wall,

Green History: a reader in environmental literature, philosophy and politics 1994.

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Plato and Aristotle

uses methexis, meaning participation, the term used by him to describe the relationship between the eide (Forms) and the sensible, particular things (aistheta).

By referring to: génos, kind, type, genus "... generally used in Plato as a synonym for eidos, e.g. and elsewhere as 'type,' approaching the Aristotelian 'genos', where dialectic has to do with dividing the forms according to 'kind' (genos); compare the 'collection' (synogoge) into one generic 'form,' [Phadrus], but this is still probably ontological rather than predictational."

Another facet of nature in Plato is aithér, or ether. "An etymology (fanciful) is given in Plato (Crat, 410b). It is the purest form of aer (Phaedo & Timaeus).

For Aristotle it constitutes the fifth element (quinta esentia [-- hence quintessential] ), moving naturally in eternal circular motion, the stuff of the heavens. The 'fifth element' soon makes its appearance in the Academy as well, in Phillip of Opus' Epinomis where it has the added virtue of corresponding to the fifth 'Platonic body' (see stoicheion).

For Heraclitus knowledge (episteme, true, scientific knowledge) was the product of sensations. But in the Phaedo, Plato argues that sensorial knowledge is flawed contrasting doxa (opinion) with episteme (verity).

Eide is the truly immutable, everlasting, the ground of real knowledge (episteme). Eidos and episteme are locked together from their first implicit appearance in the Meno where true knowledge (episteme) does not come through the senses so we must be born with it.

Aristotle: praxis - techne - theoretike; mathematical, physical, theological

Ousía, [Ousia] is substance, or existence. "The word has, however, in accordance with Plato's usual technique of variable terminology, a number of different meanings in the dialogues.

Thus, it sometimes means existence as opposed to nonexistence; it is applied to the existence of sensible things and probably the phrase 'coming into being' (genesis eis ousian ) is a similar usage. But in other places it is explicitly contrasted to genesis, and the world of becoming as the mode of being of the 'really real' (ontos on ).... Ousia even approaches the Aristotelian usage as essence..."

Thus in Plato and his pupil Aristotle the character of nature raises a problem of perception and experience we have, as yet, not reconciled.


  Plato Aristotle
impressions we sense only shadows sensations reveal the world
natural reality is the ideal forms is the generative process

Is nature beyond our sensory awareness of its features, or is nature the generative power that exists between us and the outside world, or is what we sense merely the reflection of the perfect forms represented in shadows here on earth?

For example: "dynamis, is nature's active & passive capacity, qualities or powers. "The 'powers' make their first appearance with Anaximander, not, as later, as qualities ofthings,but as the things themselves, opposites (enantia) that are separated off from the apeiron: the hot and the cold and have almost the status of elements. With Anaximenes the distinction between substances (earth, fire, water) and their qualities ('powers'), hot and cold has begun."

"Plato is aware of the dynamis both as a medical term and in their relationship with the elements" in the Timaeus (33a). Aristotle develops potentiality as power.

F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon.

(New York: NYU Press, 1967).

Darwin's Origin of Species (notes).

Ernst Mayr on What Evolution is according to Darwin

Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution

Darwin the man


Darwin and the argument from design

Darwin and DNA, the crucial relation

Jared Diamond

Murray Gell-Mann


Lynn Margulis

Lewis Mumford

James Watson

E. O. Wilson


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Nature | Greek etymological orgins | words we use | Worldviews | Critical view | Ecology as a diagram | Model of nature | Ecology defined | Methods 

Perceptual dilemma

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This page was Last revised on 05-Sep-2006.

- By Joseph Siry -