Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on the work of both the ancients and later thinkers such as Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot traces successive interpretations of Heraclitus' words. Over time, Hadot finds, "Nature loves to hide" has meant that all that lives tends to die; that Nature wraps herself in myths; and (for Heidegger) that Being unveils as it veils itself. Meanwhile the pronouncement has been used to explain everything from the opacity of the natural world to our modern angst.
From these kaleidoscopic exegeses and usages emerge two contradictory approaches to nature: the Promethean, or experimental-questing, approach, which embraces technology as a means of tearing the veil from Nature and revealing her secrets; and the Orphic, or contemplative-poetic, approach, according to which such a denuding of Nature is a grave trespass. In place of these two attitudes Hadot proposes one suggested by the Romantic vision of Rousseau, Goethe, and Schelling, who saw in the veiled Isis an allegorical expression of the sublime. "Nature is art and art is nature," Hadot writes, inviting us to embrace Isis and all she represents: art makes us intensely aware of how completely we ourselves are not merely surrounded by nature but also part of nature.
The Veil of Isis is profoundly original in design. Pierre Hadot is both an eminent historian of philosophy and a philosopher himself. Both sides of his interest are evident in this outstanding study, in which the argument develops historically and analytically.
In The Veil of Isis Pierre Hadot, an eminent authority on Neoplatonic philosophy, addresses the exploration of nature in Western thought across more than two millennia. His mastery of a wide range of literature, philosophy, iconography, and technology from antiquity to the present reveals unsuspected links of thought and image throughout the long process of uncovering the secrets of nature. In a brilliant finale Hadot brings the whole evolution into conjunction with the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus, the Egyptian goddess Isis, and the Freemasons. The book is a dizzying tour de force that would be the envy of a modern Plotinus.
Decidedly, with this new book of a rare richness and clarity, about which he says he has been thinking for more than forty years, the philosopher... gives evidence of an tireless spirit of exploration.
Pierre Hadot's The Veil of Isis is an extremely ambitious work, giving us an account of the evolution of man's attitude towards, and understanding of, nature from antiquity down to the present day. It is a very significant contribution to our understanding of this important topic-and it makes for good reading.
[Hadot] is an extraordinary guide to the history of the idea of nature from Heraclitus to now. You will find yourself in the company of a wise Greek, a pagan, a philosopher who believes that a role of philosophy is to teach us how to live.
Again and again sparks fly as Hadot reveals the enduring fascination of nature's mystery.
This very learned book displays an enormous scholarship and yet is a fascinating read.
[Hadot] has written a remarkably insightful book on the theme of the secrets of nature and their significance for the history of science and ideas about nature. First published in 2004 by Editions Gallimard, it is now available in English through Michael Chase’s adept and eloquent translation...Of particular interest to historians of science will be Hadot’s conception of the Promethean attitude and the mechanization of nature...Hadot’s analysis is significant for its focus on Nature as female both in reality and as metaphor during the Renaissance and early modern era...[W]hatever view the reader may hold of the rise of science or of the consequences of the Promethean attitude, The Veil of Isis is a rewarding voyage through a multitude of texts, illustrations and historical figures that brings a set of complex and often contradictory ideas into a clear and compelling argument.
Pierre Hadot, professor emeritus of the Collège de France, has written a remarkably insightful book on the theme of secrets of nature and their significance for the history of science and ideas about nature. First published in 2004 by Editions Gallimard, it is now available in English through Michael Chase’s adept and eloquent translation...Of particular interest to historians of science will be Hadot’s conception of the Promethean attitude and the mechanization of nature...The Veil of Isis is a rewarding voyage through a multitude of texts, illustrations and historical figures that brings a set of complex and often contradictory ideas into a clear and compelling argument.
- 432 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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