The Figure of Nature: On Greek Origins

The Figure of Nature: On Greek Origins

The Figure of Nature: On Greek Origins

The Figure of Nature: On Greek Origins


Broaching an understanding of nature in Platonic thought, John Sallis goes beyond modern conceptions and provides a strategy to have recourse to the profound sense of nature operative in ancient Greek philosophy. In a rigorous and textually based account, Sallis traces the complex development of the Greek concept of nature. Beginning with the mythical vision embodied in the figure of the goddess Artemis, he reanimates the sense of nature that informs the fragmentary discourses of Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Empedocles and shows how Plato takes up pre-Socratic conceptions critically while also being transformed. Through Sallis's close reading of the Theaetetus and the Phaedo, he recovers the profound and comprehensive concept of nature in Plato's thought.


To return from nature to ϕύσις is not merely to substitute for a modern word or concept its ancient equivalent. Rather, it is to reverse a history of translation that, beginning with the Latin rendering of ϕύσις as natura, has distanced what is said in the translation from what was once said in the word ϕύσις. in the modern designation there is borne a sedimented history of interpretation, which has both deposited senses alien to that of ϕύσις and rendered imperceptible much that originally sounded in the word, not least of all the echoes of mythic discourse.

To return from nature to ϕύσις is to venture to suspend this history so as to retrace the figure that oriented philosophy in its Greek beginning. It is to venture the attempt to write again περὶ ϕύσεως, to span the distance in such a way that it might become possible from this distance nonetheless to reinscribe such discourse.

In orienting the discourse to the figure of nature, to its σχῆμα, the intent is to free nature from the weight of the concept. For ϕύσις is neither a concept abstracted from the many natural things (τὰ ϕύσει ὄντα) nor itself one such thing alongside others. in certain respects it resembles a geometrical figure as distinct from both the corresponding concept and the visible trace that can be drawn of such a figure. This resemblance is what motivates to an extent the focus on the figure of nature, which is not something apart from nature, not something simply other than nature.

The intent is also to distance nature from anterior determination— indeed, in a double sense and manner: in such a way that, on the one side, it is not construed simply as an anterior determinant, as a nature beyond nature; and, on the other side, in such a way that, its incessant flow having been granted, its resistance to preconstituted forms and conditions is acknowledged.

Yet, even if the things of nature flow just as a flow of olive oil flows without a sound, all things whatsoever—being itself, λόγος, even their character as things of nature—depend on their somehow being brought . . .

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