Monday, February 13, 2012

Philosophy Begins in Wonder

Aristotle famously remarked that the love of wisdom - philosophy - begins in wonder.  This is correct.

It has since been noted that philosophy aims at the conclusion of wonder.  This, unlike the first statement, might not be correct.

So much depends on what we understand the aim of philosophy to be.  If we model it on the applied sciences, then its aim is to solve particular problems, in which case it aims to be done with its work.  The conclusion of a chain of reasoning becomes its consummation, and the consummation becomes the end.

But if philosophy should also aim to make us scientists as Peirce understood science - he says it is "the pursuit of those who desire to find things out" and something that is carried out in a community, not by an isolated individual - then it aims not just at solving problems but at introducing us to the world.

Bugbee points out (Inward Morning, August 31 entry) that in wonder, "reality has begun to sink into us."  Think about it: when you really wonder at something, isn't it because of a disclosure?  Wonder may seem to concern what is hidden, but the beginning of wonder is also the beginning of an opening, when the world opens to us.  If it were not so, we would not even know to wonder.

Philosophy teaches us - or ought to teach us - to open ourselves in return.  This opening of ourselves is not the conclusion of wonder but the development of the habit of wonder.  I don't mean the slack-jawed laziness that poses as wonder and pretends that all things are wonderful while being open to none of them, but, as Bugbee puts it, a commitment to being in the wilderness and the patience to let ourselves be " that which can make us at home in this condition."

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