8 - Philosophy, Imagination, and the Fragility of Beauty: On Reconciliation with Nature  pp. 311-354

Philosophy, Imagination, and the Fragility of Beauty: On Reconciliation with Nature

By Charles L. Griswold, Jr

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First, it is clear that all human affairs, like the Sileni of Alcibiades, have two aspects quite different from each other. Hence, what appears “at first blush” (as they say) to be death, will, if you examine it more closely, turn out to be life; conversely, life will turn out to be death; beauty will become ugliness; riches will turn to poverty; notoriety will become fame; learning will be ignorance; strength, weakness; noble birth will be ignoble; joy will become sadness; success, failure; friendship, enmity; what is helpful will seem harmful; in brief, you will find everything suddenly reversed if you open up the Silenus.

Desiderius Erasmus


Virtually all of the ancient schools, whether philosophical or antiphilosophical, sought to ground their ethical and political theories in “nature.” This included “human nature” (as distinguished from human beings as convention has shaped them) though often understood within a larger whole or ethically relevant framework. Book X of the Laws contains one of Plato's strongest statements to the effect that nature, in the sense of the whole, is governed by reason (personified by the gods) rather than by chance or any human art (i.e., convention). We are enjoined to live according to nature, that is, to subject our self-love to the perspective of reason, or “the life of the whole” (903c). In the Gorgias Callicles forcefully appeals to nature (as opposed to convention) in arguing that the strong should rule (483a–e).