René ten Bos investigates how philosophers have thought about water and how water has made philosophers think. He takes us on a wide-ranging journey through centuries of ideas and experience, exploring water’s diverse meanings and manifestations in life, literature, philosophy and politics. He considers water as a source of life, as a mirror of nations and the human soul, as unfathomable depth and immeasurable strength, as a threat and as a highway for travel and trade.

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René ten Bos

Ten Bos begins at the source of Western civilization, in the philosophy of Thales, Heraclitus, Plato and Aristotle, examining the role of rivers and the sea in their thinking. Although fascinated by flow and fluidity, most philosophers were in search of firm ground, with a distinct preference for dry land. The sea and its harbours were seen by Plato as a netherworld capable of undermining the stability and order of Athens.

Ten Bos connects ideas about politics, democracy and dictatorship with reflections on the differences between lakes, rivers and coastal districts. He traces the transition from a mythical, poetic world to a more scientific view, which often evoked fears that water might be reduced to a simple object of investigation, to H2O.

Water gushes and meanders like an untamed river through a mountainous landscape, exploring convergences between water as metaphor and as vital necessity, as elemental substance and as fishing grounds, as an obstacle and as primal soup. Ten Bos discusses Moby Dick and Grotius, examines Peter Sloterdijk’s philosophical thinking on flow, and contemplates diving and resurfacing, changing moods, international law, amphibians, and our immense fear of the briny deep.

Because philosophy has always sought solid foundations, we forget that it has its roots in currents and tides. Ten Bos restores fluidity of thought, moving smoothly back and forth between the poetry of the sea and the hard reality of polluted and rising water, between the imagery of melancholy moods and the hard work that water now requires of us. Water is an original, inspiring book by an innovative and accessible thinker.

René ten Bos advocates admitting intuition and ethics to philosophy. […] He looks back to the poets, writers and philosophers whose thinking about the earth’s cohesiveness was fluid, non-mechanistic and intuitive.

NRC Handelsblad

Water is an erudite book, written in a carefree style and full of elegantly portrayed images, insights, theories and observations.

Vrij Nederland
René ten Bos
René ten Bos (b. 1959) is professor of philosophy at the Radboud University in Nijmegen and philosopher laureate for 2017 in The Netherlands. He has published on subjects including organizational ethics, strategic management and gender issues.
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