Moving to Texas eight years ago forced me to think often about water — and the future of American places that simply don’t have enough of it to sustain their populations. (I have an essay on this topic coming out in Raritan, but not for a few months.) Stories like this one are, to me, harrowing, and they always push me towards a counterfactual thought experiment: What would America look like if the growth of our population and the movement of our people had been governed by rational expectations of water supply?
To say that On the Situations and Names of Winds is a “pseudo-Aristotelian” text is to say among other things that it is the sort of text Aristotle could have written. He did in fact write of the names of the winds in his own Meteorology, and in the History of Animals he also, like Pliny, attributes to the wind the power to impregnate horses. To recognize that a philosopher, indeed “the Philosopher” as he was long known, could have been expected to write about the winds, and to do so in his capacity as a philosopher, is an occasion to think about the shifting priorities of a discipline that is unusually difficult to define. These days you can go to college and take a class called “Philosophy of Sport,” but on no list of course offerings will you find, say, “Philosophy of the Sun”. You can take a class called, “Philosophy of Journalism”, but you cannot take one called “Philosophy of Wind”. We take it for granted that this is how things should be, but a moment’s reflection will force you to admit that, if philosophy is reflection on the most important things in life, then the Sun surely deserves its own class well before “sport” does. There is no “sport” without the Sun, whereas the reverse is obviously not the case. Wind might be less important than the Sun, but I would place it well before “sport” or journalism on the list of things that fundamentally shape our lives. Similarly “Philosophy of Climate Science” is hot stuff these days; “Philosophy of Weather” is non-existent. If I were ever permitted to teach a course on the philosophy of wind, I would begin with the questions: How did the winds lose their names? And what does it mean for us to live in a world of nameless winds? I step outside and I feel a gust. “That’s wind,” I think to myself, and I have nothing more to add beyond that. I don’t know the winds. […]
It seems to me the last philosopher to write about nature in a way continuous with the classical tradition of natural philosophy was Gaston Bachelard, and this has something to do with the fact that for much of his career Bachelard was a rural schoolmaster rather than an urban, status-anxious university professor. He did not write a philosophy of wind, though he did write a psychoanalysis of fire. Here “psychoanalysis” is not understood in the Freudian sense, and has nothing to do with the subconscious symbolism of fire in our dreams or erotic fantasies. Bachelard, rather, is analyzing the soul of fire itself, trying to figure out what fire essentially is, through the combination of his cultural erudition, his scientific literacy, and his poetic imagination. More recently one might be tempted to cite the name of Peter Sloterdijk, who writes entire tomes on things like bubbles. But as far as I can tell it never takes very long for Sloterdijk to move on from the bubbles themselves to other things that the idea of the bubble might help us to understand, things that are held to be more important than real bubbles (just as “sport” is more important than the Sun), like the metaphorical bubbles of financial markets and so on. Now more than ever, I think, we need to revive the tradition of Bachelard, which as I’ve said is continuous with the way philosophy was understood for most of its history, and to pursue the philosophy not just of wind but of bubbles too, and of fire and of the Sun: in themselves and for their own sake. I’m serious about this.
Accessed right now. I know which one I hope is correct.