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Entrepreneurship and The Rape of Mother Nature and Truth:An essay-review
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-04-02 10:51:25
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The Veil of Isis: An Essay by Pierre Hedot on the History of the Idea of Nature (Harvard University Press, 2006).

 “President Obama has promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans
and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

                                           --Entrepreneur and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney (2012)

The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation,--for it survives the longest periods of skepticism and returns after every banishment,--is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of God-head, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawns of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last,--God, Lights, Freedom, Immortality.

                                                                                                    -- Sri Aurobindo, from The Life Divine


Pierre Hadot (1922-2010)

Presently I am teaching a course at Barry University on Environmental Ethics. One of the books we have discussed in class is The Veil of Isis by Pierre Hadot (2004, translated in English in 2006). We discussed the book within the historical context of the presidential campaign of 2010 which culminated in his address to the RNC in Tampa, Florida where the entrepreneur Mitt Romney in accepting the nomination as presidential candidate for the Republican party turned the greatest challenge that civilization has ever faced into a joke of sorts via the above quoted statement.”  And as expected the mindless crowd of the convention applauded heartily!

The question I then asked the students is this: What prompts the entrepreneurs of our brave new world to embrace technology as a way of tearing the veil from Nature so that she can reveal her secrets? Bluntly put: what has provoked the rape of Nature of what St. Francis of Assisi called Mother Earth? To get an answer we need to go back to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus who uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei" usually translated as "Nature loves to hide." Nature in fact is the subject of The Veil of Isis by Pierre Hadot. The allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis is later picked up by the likes of  Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot traces successive interpretations of Heraclitus' words.


The Veil of Isis (2004)

But before discussing the book’s thesis, let’s ask who was Pierre Hadot? He was a philosophy teacher whose specialization was the philosophy of nature, an interest he picked up from Bergson. This interest in nature culminates with the publication of Le Voile d’Isis which was only published six years before his death. He distinguishes two attitudes of man toward nature: the Promethean approach whrein man tries to force nature to unveil herself and reveal her secrets to better exploit her (the entrepreneurial enterprise obsesses with market growth and profits); the other is the Orphic attitude an aesthetic approach whrein one listens attentively to nature, and recognizes the potential dangers of revealing all her secrets. That warning had already come from Vico in the 18th century when he pointed out that we can only know fully what we ourselves have made while Nature which we have not made will always keeps some secrets from us.

To be sure the Orphic naturalist also wishes to discover Nature’s secrets but “he confines himself to perception, without instruments and using the resources of philosophical and poetic discourse or those of pictorial art” (p. 155). In this he “imitates the artistic game of that poet of the universe, the divinity” (p. 156). Hadot identifies Plato’s Timaeus as the exemplar of the Orphic approach; it recreates a conjectural model of the universe’s genesis and structure, a contemplation that “achieves amazement before the world’s beauty.” (p. 219). radically differing from the Promethean technique in as much as it is non-experimental, merely discursive. This brings to mind the opposition between theoretical physics and experimental science.

Then in chapter VII Hadot identifies nature with Isis and Artemis as a veiled goddess. The trope of Nature’s secret now assumes a dichotomy between the inner and the outer: the Promethean must penetrate from the outside into the interior, while the Orphic is happy just to contemplate. On p. 250 Hadot quotes Goethe: “Mysterious in broad daylight, Nature does not let herself be robbed of her veil, and what she does not wish to reveal to your mind, you could not constrain her to do with levers and screws.” Heidegger later on will write that it is the obviousness of Nature and our taking it for granted that hides it from our awareness.

In chapter 21 titled “The Sacred Shudder” Hadot discusses how the aesthetic approach introduces “an emotional, sentimental and irrational element into the relation between mankind and nature” (p. 263). This is also something Kant discusses in his Critique of Judgment; the terror we feel in the face of nature’s sublimity.

In chapter 22 Hadot takes up the shuddering the Orphics feel when confronted with the prospect of a naked Nature. He quotes Nietzsche who, like the Greeks, does not wish to unveil truth: “We no longer believe that the truth is still the truth, if its veils are taken away form it…Perhaps Truth is a woman who has reasons for not wanting to let her reasons be seen? Perhaps her name, if we were to speak Greek, is Baubo?”

In the last chapter Hadot argues that the trope of the “secret of nature” needs to be abandoned, for in Shelling and Heidegger, Sartre and Marleau-Ponty, locates what comes next: the mystery of Being and the anguish the human being feels when confronted with it. And yet Heidegger keeps on speaking of “unveiling” of truth. He is aware that science having reached its Promethean apotheosis, it is now in vogue to speak of “revealing,” “unlocking,” “decoding,” “the secrets of the universe.” He seems to saying that since the Promethean attitude of exploitation and manipulation of nature has dominated science as well as nature since Galileo and Francis Bacon and Descartes, the Orphic attitude has consequently changed from one of wonder and awe and reverence for the beauty of nature, which was there since the Stoics, to anguish and terror at what the Promethean man has done to her transforming her into a monstrosity.

The silver lining in all of this is that, as Vico has taught us, the gods return and after we have managed to dehumanize ourselves by raping our own Mother Earth the possibility remains for a return to the era of the gods, to a renewed appreciation of beauty and the aesthetics. Heidegger, referring to the devastation of Promethean technological man on nature exclaimed pessimistically that “only a god can save us now.” But Vico is not so pessimistic exactly because he is not deterministic: man has the ability to change course and thus save himself. The return of the gods also means a return of the imaginative and the poetic and the humane, a return to the appreciation of beauty and to the Greek notion that the Good, the True and the Beautiful are inseparable and can indeed heal us and be salvific.  


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James Woodbury2014-04-08 18:03:20
Thanks for sending us this. I must look up and see if the William and Mary Library has anything by Pierre Hadot. I would reemphasize, however, that the world and all things therein were created by God, not by Nature, and that the role of Nature in Creation is strictly that of a subordinate
entity. Best regards,
James W.

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