In episode 73 the question was of ‘why do philosophy’ was posed. There are many ways to come at this question and in the episode the PEL guys kept coming back to two things: Curiosity and Wonder. How are these two words linked, if they are, and what is their relation to philosophy?
The essay “Beginning in Wonder: Placing the Origin of Thinking” (in Nikolas Kompridis’s (ed.) Philosophical Romanticism) by Jeff Malpas gives an interesting, Heideggerian, interpretation of this question. Malpas’s position is that wonder, which he traces back to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, must be held distinct from curiosity. Unlike curiosity, wonder cannot be extinguished with an explanation:
A clear demonstration of this distinction is given by the fact that we may be struck by wonder at some phenomenon in spite of being satisfied with our understanding and explanation of it. A rainbow, for instance, can inspire wonder in a way that is quite unaffected by the knowledge that it is produced by the refraction of sunlight through droplets of water in the atmosphere.
It is not that Malpas is arguing that curiosity and explanation are alien to philosophy. Rather, his point is that philosophy cannot be reduced to mere curiosity. That the impulse to philosophize is fueled continually by the wonder which is in excess to our power to explain. Part of the origin of philosophy then is making the ordinary extra-ordinary in the interplay between the transparency of explanation and the opacity in wondering.
One can feel the strong Heideggerian influence here. For Malpas, part of this wondering is connected to always already being-in-the-world. It is in the interplay between transparency and opacity (the revealing and concealing character of aletheia), that our being there is “illuminated”. How is this? Malpas, tells us that it is the opacity in continuing to wonder at a rainbow calls attention to our situated-ness in the world. The only way I can really make sense of what Malpas is trying to get at here is that our wonder – and the opacity that always ‘doubles’ explanation- calls attention to our inability to have a view from nowhere:
Wonder is thus a returning, something with the abruptness of a sudden shock, to the world to which we always, already belong – it is in that return that philosophy begins and to which it must always itself go back.
Although, I find Malpas position interesting and I appreciate the idea that we can remain in wonder at the opacity of the world even after explanation, it does not seem to me that this is the origin of philosophy or answers the question ‘why do philosophy’. This is not to deny that philosophy does not begin in wonder and a sense of opacity – it surely does that for many. But to connect wonder with a situated-ness and a return to the ‘everyday’ does not seem to be the ‘telos’ of philosophy. There are many more questions that can spur philosophizing and there can be more ends as well.