ad astra per alia porci


wonder and scepticism
December 11, 2010, 4:38 pm
Filed under: philosophy | Tags: , ,

My own experience of philosophy tells me that two ingredients are required for happy and fulfilling philosophising: wonder and scepticism.

Wonder is the capacity for awe when one perceives the rich complexity and mysterious beauty of the world. Philosophers have long noticed the importance of wonder. The exact provenance of this opinion is unclear; this observation has been variously credited to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Whiteheadd. But whoever lays claim to it does not matter.

What  matters is that it expresses a central kernel of truth: philosophy begins in wonder. It is a child-like state, where one sees the world through unprejudiced and eager eyes and many, many questions pops up in one’s inquisitive mind, each aching to be explored and hopefully answered. Even the simplest and the most seemingly mundane things transforms into rich mines of questions; they take on a new coat of mystery. Wonder motivates the philosopher to strive to understand and unravel the mysterious workings of the world.

Scepticism is a questioning attitude. It compels us not to blindly accept common claims and beliefs, but rather subject them to critical scrutiny, to constantly examine, probe and adjust our views on what the world is. It is both destruction and creation; untenable beliefs and theories are cast aside while new ones are built through it.

Interest and progress cannot be sustained without having both. While wonder provides the fuel, scepticism provides the map. Wonder spurs the philosopher to ask questions, but without scepticism it results in undisciplined, wild and ultimately sporadically successful searches for truth. Scepticism breaks many of our closely-held beliefs and creates frustration in the search for the best theory, and has the effect of diluting the philosopher’s enthusiasm. Wonder is the counterbalance that pushes the philosopher onwards.

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