Saturday, April 09, 2005


From The Young Hegelian:
...the attitude proper for the philosopher is a state of wonder.

Plato it was who in the Thaetetus has Socrates say that the experience of "wonder" (Thaumazein) is "very much that of a philosopher". The idea is take up in Aristotle who rehearses it in the Metaphysics: philosophy, Aristotle tells us, "begins in wonder". A wonder at the world, at the order and the meaning which seems to inhere in that which exists, ta onta.
This very clearly corresponds with Proust's view of adolescence, a view that I mostly agree with but that I still can't help finding a bit hypocritical and unrealistic. The hypocritical part being that the very philosophers that advocated "wonder" were also the ones that had their own philosophical doctrines about how things were and how they should be seen. In other words, I hear a hint of "you should be open-minded... to my ideas." Not to mention the problem that liberals and other purportedly forward-looking idealists run into all the time - viz., you should wonder about everything except whether or not you should wonder about everything.

All of which, whatever. The more difficult part to swallow is the idea that progress comes from wonder. Because it doesn't. Ultimately, wonder is passive.

Sample Thoughts from People Who Wonder

It's these latter two that Proust et al seize upon, saying hey, look, this is where progress comes from. Questioning norms, but in an objective way - bracketing off value judgments, which modernity sees as the devil.

But that's all it does. As soon as you start to answer these questions, you leave the realm of wonder and enter dogmatism. You adopt your own viewpoint and set up a system of beliefs. And it's not like it's a bad thing because this is where progress comes from. Progress comes from people with firm ideologies, people that don't wonder or pause to long to consider dissenting viewpoints.

Initially, philosophers ought to question things. Dip their toe in everybody's bathwater. But once they've found a pool of ideas they like, they should completely immerse themselves, develop their theories and ideas as far as they can. Produce something for the next generation to wonder at, then stop wondering at. The new generation can be the judge of whether or not a philosophy is valid or to what extent, and they can use it to branch off into their own ideologies. It just seems like, if people keep on trying (futilely, because at some point you're just too entangled in history and culture) to be open-minded, nothing will ever get done. Stop trying to guess whether there's a cliff at the end of the path and ride that horse. If you fall, at least I'll benefit.

EDIT: Mr. Waggish does his own take, relating this to the idea of linguistic maturity.