The Four Elements of Empedocles

Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

— From Paradise Lost by John Milton


The Four Elements of Empedocles is one of the earliest ontologies. While not of special interest in itself (except of course to alchemy), other double duals are comparable to it, such as the The Here and the Now and Heidegger’s Fourfold. Additionally, it is interesting to remember that it was thought that the four elements were the primitives of which everything is composed; for example bone was fire, air, water, and earth blended in a certain proportion. I am unsure of the origin of the choice of the elements: why these four and not others?

Also, note that with respect to light transmission, the four elements can be arranged in the sequence of bright, light, dim, and dark. This is not to say that fire is “good” and earth “bad”, or that fire and earth are the most different from each other. Perhaps this distinction will have some meaning later.

[*5.188, *6.32, *6.56, *7.194]

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18 Responses to “The Four Elements of Empedocles”

  1. The Cynefin Framework « Equivalent Exchange Says:

    […] effect relate to one another within them. They are in the order of light transmission through the four elements: bright, light, dim, and […]

  2. William Blake’s Four Zoas « Equivalent Exchange Says:

    […] Blake’s Four Zoas arranged by the Four Elements. Most references associate Urizen to Reason, Luvah to Feeling, Tharmas to Sensation, and Urthona to […]

  3. Attraction and Repulsion « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] is pervasive throughout the conceptualization of modern physics. Even ancient Empedocles, of the four elements fame, thought that in all nature the force of attraction and combination was Love or Philia, and […]

  4. Bending the Elements « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] could be because I’ve been thinking alot about the Four Elements and how I view them as analogies for the four relations I’ve been discussing for some time on […]

  5. Fourfolds and Double Duals, Part 2 « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] This fourfold reminds me of the fourfolds Bright-Light-Dim-Dark shown in the early entry with the Four Elements, as well as the newer fourfold of The One and the […]

  6. Kent Palmer’s Levels of Being | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] Another fourfold that transitions from simplicity to complexity. Similar to the Cynefin Framework and Bright to Dark. […]

  7. The Four Treasures of Ireland | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] and suits are also tied to the four elements. […]

  8. States of Matter | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] is arranged in the order of highest to lowest temperature (usually). Compare this to the classical Four Elements of Empedocles (Fire, Air, Water, and Earth) and to the made-up fourfold of Bright-to-Dark, based on […]

  9. The Four Temperaments | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] Indeed, these personality types from ancient medicine and philosophy are still a source of classification and inspiration for modern psychology, even though the reasons for the differences (the four humors) has been discredited. The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile (they were big on bile), and phlegm, and were also related to the Four Seasons and the Four Elements. […]

  10. Relations all the Way Down | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles somehow reasoned that the world was made entirely from four basic elements: fire, earth, water, and air. Science as we know it has disproved this from being the case, but […]

  11. Matter, Energy, Space, and Time | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] there are obvious analogies between this fourfold and the Four Elements and the Four States of Matter. I have also used the pairs space-time and matter-energy as two parts […]

  12. The Quadralectics of Marten Kuilman | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] and visible invisibility. Above, I’ve arranged these four aspects by my positions for the four elements. Unfortunately, they aren’t in the same sequence as Kuilman’s […]

  13. A Game of Four-folds, Part 2 | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] found at the link below. Then you will have all six arrangements of the four-fold for the Four Elements! There are actually seven states for the tetraflexagon, six of which have a valid arrangement on […]

  14. A Game of Four-folds, Part 3 | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] Here are the permutations of Heidegger’s “das Geviert” arranged on the faces of a cube, if one cuts it out and folds it up properly. Not only is the square the regular polygon of materiality, the cube is the regular polyhedron of Earth, the most material of the ancient four elements. […]

  15. Wave-Particle Duality | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] can also see this four-fold in a weak analogy with the Four Elements: particles for earth, waves for water, motions for fire, and fields for air (or […]

  16. The Fantastic Four | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] they are close to being elementals, after the Four Elements. Paracelsus associated different spirits with each […]

  17. The Four New Elements | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] https://equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/the-four-elements-of-empedocles/ […]

  18. A Game of Fourfolds, Part 4 | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] example, the Four Elements are more than the opposite pairs of Air and Earth, Fire and Water. In Hjelmslev’s Net, Substance […]

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