Greek Natural Philosophy

The Presocratics and Their Importance for Environmental Philosophy (First Edition)
By J. Baird Callicott, John van Buren, and Keith Wayne Brown
©2018, 384 pages

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Greek Natural Philosophy

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    Greek Natural Philosophy presents the primary sources on the Presocratics in a straightforward way in order to tell a coherent story about the astonishing development of natural philosophy in ancient Greece and its relevance today.

    The book begins with historical influences on the birth of natural philosophy, especially literacy and the ecosystem services provided by the natural environment of ancient Greece. It argues that the individual philosophers' thoughts about the nature of the cosmos, living things, humankind, and human culture were linked by a "diachronic dialectic of ideas." Each philosopher's speculations were subjected to a critique by the next generation who crafted more subtle theories.

    The dialectical transition is traced from the mythopoeic worldview of Hesiod to the rational worldview of Thales and his Milesian successors, followed by Xenophanes and Heraclitus, then Parmenides and his Eleatic successors, and the qualitative pluralisms of Anaxagoras and Empedocles. An entirely fresh interpretation is provided of the Atomists and later Pythagoreans, whose work culminated in the ideas upon which Galileo, Newton, and the other architects of modern science, continued to build.

    In the span of only two centuries, the Presocratics developed the basic principles of philosophy and natural science, ecology, mathematical astronomy, the atomic theory of matter, an inertial theory of motion, and the possibility that our solar system is only one of infinitely many scattered throughout infinite time and space.

    The concluding chapter traces natural philosophy through subsequent centuries until its abandonment in 20th century philosophy, leading to the moribund state of philosophy by the end of that century. The authors show how environmental philosophy represents a return to natural philosophy and a model for the revival of philosophy's vigor and relevance in the 21st century.

    Greek Natural Philosophy is suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses in ancient Greek philosophy or in environmental philosophy, and will be of interest to scholars in these fields.

    J. Baird Callicott, a founder of environmental philosophy and ethics, is the University Distinguished Research Professor and Regents Professor of Philosophy (retired) at the University of North Texas.
    Keith Wayne Brown is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of North Texas.
    John van Buren is professor of philosophy and director of environmental studies at Fordham University in New York.
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    "J. Baird Callicott, the first philosopher to teach an environmental ethics course, has coauthored a book returning us to the first philosophers in the Western philosophical tradition, philosophers who were environmental philosophers first. ... The text is designed to introduce readers not only to the historical foundations underlying their disciplines but to challenge the presupposition from which most modern accounts begin: that humans are separate from the rest of nature. ... In a Masters level course on environmental philosophy, this should be the first text required. It provides not only the necessary historical background but the metaphysical foundations on which the inertia of Western philosophy depended - and depends. At the undergraduate level the text could also serve as one component in an undergraduate course on ancient philosophy."
    Mark C.E. Peterson, Department of Arts and Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee CGS
    Excerpted from his book review in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
    Download and read the full review HERE

    “As an introduction to the Presocratics, this is as good as it gets. The approach is scholarly and the text itself is lively, informal and very accessible: it might indeed be read with profit by anyone interested in the origins of western culture. The programmatic claims of the book, however, are nowhere near conclusive. That said, and in defiance of Stephen Hawking’s claim that ‘philosophy is dead,’ the book as a whole is a great reference-point from which to re-ignite a debate about where the beating heart of philosophy is now to be found.”
    Alan Holland, Founding Editor of Environmental Values, Emeritus Professor, Lancaster University (UK)
    Excerpted from a book review in Environmental Values – Read the full review HERE

    “As a text for students new to the study of the pre-Socratics, chapters two to eight fit nicely into the space between scholarly texts for specialists with knowledge of Greek and the breezy, short introductory readings you would get in a general philosophy textbook. The authors are careful to frame the pre-Socratics as emerging from a mythopoeic worldview, and working toward a systematic, scientific understanding of nature. The authors use the device that they call the “Gotcha Principle” (p. 16) to illustrate the process of philosophical dialectic that drives a philosopher to critique and improve upon his forebears.”
    Aimée Koeplin, Professor of Philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University
    Excerpted from her book review in Environmental Ethics
    Follow the link and download the PDF to read the review of Greek Natural Philosophy: The Presocratics and Their Importance for Environmental Philosophy in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.

    Read the book review of Greek Natural Philosophy: The Presocratics and Their Importance for Environmental Philosophy in Environmental Values.