The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of by Pierre Hadot

By Pierre Hadot

Approximately twenty-five hundred years in the past the Greek philosopher Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic phrases "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, often translated as "Nature likes to hide," has haunted Western tradition ever due to the fact is the topic of this enticing examine by way of Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical determine of the veiled goddess Isis as a advisor, and drawing at the paintings of either the ancients and later thinkers akin to Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot strains successive interpretations of Heraclitus' phrases. over the years, Hadot unearths, "Nature likes to hide" has intended that every one that lives has a tendency to die; that Nature wraps herself in myths; and (for Heidegger) that Being unveils because it veils itself. in the meantime the pronouncement has been used to give an explanation for every thing from the opacity of the flora and fauna to our glossy angst.
From those kaleidoscopic exegeses and usages emerge contradictory ways to nature: the Promethean, or experimental-questing, procedure, which embraces expertise as a method of tearing the veil from Nature and revealing her secrets and techniques; and the Orphic, or contemplative-poetic, process, in response to which this sort of denuding of Nature is a grave trespass. as opposed to those attitudes Hadot proposes one urged via the Romantic imaginative and prescient of Rousseau, Goethe, and Schelling, who observed within the veiled Isis an allegorical expression of the elegant. "Nature is artwork and artwork is nature," Hadot writes, inviting us to embody Isis and all she represents: paintings makes us intensely conscious of how thoroughly we ourselves should not in basic terms surrounded via nature but in addition a part of nature.

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19 Ultimately, whether it has to do with phenomena that are inexplicable or hard to perceive, or again with causes, and in particular with unknown secret forces, the idea of secrets of nature always presupposes an opposition between the visible, what appears, or the phenomenon, and what is hidden beyond that appearance, or the invisible. We encounter this opposition, moreover, from the beginnings of Greek thought. 22 Aristotle, in particular, was always to remain faithful to this method, which consists in concluding from visible effects to an invisible cause and not the reverse.

Nature, by contrast, has an internal finality: the process of nature has no other end than nature itself. It becomes what it wants to become, that is, what it already virtually was. The craftsman reasons as he acts, analyzing the operations that will be needed to make the form that is in his mind appear in the matter. 21 Art is imposed upon matter with violence, whereas nature models matter easily and without effort. Ultimately, shouldn't we say that nature is a more perfect art, since it is inside the thing itself, and is immanent and immediate?

These phenomena have their own causes . . Ignorance is the cause of our terrors. Therefore, is it not worthwhile to know, in order not to fear? Ah, how much better it is to search for causes!... "19 Ultimately, whether it has to do with phenomena that are inexplicable or hard to perceive, or again with causes, and in particular with unknown secret forces, the idea of secrets of nature always presupposes an opposition between the visible, what appears, or the phenomenon, and what is hidden beyond that appearance, or the invisible.

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