Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Plato and Aristotle on Wonder

Aristotle is famously acknowledged as the author of the claim that "philosophy begins in wonder." I'm not the first to point this out, but it bears repeating that the same claim in nearly the same words occurs in Plato's dialogue Theaetetus. Here is my quick translation of the passage I have in mind: 
"My friend, Theodoros appears to have hit the mark [2] concerning your nature. For wonder is certainly the passion of a philosopher; for there is not another beginning of philosophy than this one, and the one who said that Iris [3] was born of Thaumas seems not to genealogize badly."  -- Plato, Theaetetus
(Θεόδωρος γάρ͵ ὦ φίλε͵ φαίνεται οὐ κακῶς τοπάζειν περὶ τῆς φύσεώς σου. μάλα γὰρ φιλοσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος͵ τὸ θαυμάζειν· οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας ἢ αὕτη͵ καὶ ἔοικεν ὁ τὴν Ἶριν Θαύμαντος ἔκγονον φήσας οὐ κακῶς γενεαλογεῖν.) (Greek text from here.  Another English translation - Fowler's 1921 translation - here at Perseus.)

[1] See his Metaphysics, 982b12. 
[2] Literally, "not to aim badly."
[3] Plato associates Iris with speech or dialectic, or with the kind of conversation that leads to discovery.

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