zaterdag 4 september 2010

Wonder or bewilderment

Does philosophy start with wonder or with bewilderment?

It is quite accepted and respected to view philosophy as starting in wonder. The wonder for example which is expressed in Leibniz’s and Heidegger’s question which asks "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Or in Kant's awe at the starry sky above him and the moral law within him.

In this wonder easily a kind of adoration and affirmation slips in. How fantastically orderly it's all created, isn’t the world amazingly pretty alltogether! An echo of this traditional appreciation of wonder we heard recently with the award of a prestigious Dutch cultural award to Charlotte Mutsaers: it was the reward for the wonder, the enchantment, the candour, the enthusiasm.

I never liked that cliché, I think it is not critical enough and it does too little justice to the chaos and indifference of the world around us, including creation in its primeval purity. And that may explain why a lot of philosophy felt to me as not being relevant, although I may be a quite philosophical mind.

I feel more akin to Theodore de Boer, when he says thinking emerges from bewilderment, or discomfort. The world around us hardly justifies the pious wonder and praise many traditional philosophies and, of course, traditional religions tribute to the intelligent design of the cosmos. I associate that wonder and praise mostly with people in a luxury position. With people who, at a safe distance from the noise of the street and the hectic world can surrender to contemplation which creates its own fascination and beauty.

Actually, it does not have to be either/or. Intermediate positions between bewilderment and wonder are possible. Thus the philosopher Daan Roovers affirms that philosophy begins with wonder. But with her this wonder is not the romantic adoration about the skies. She refers to the amazement about the many opinions she encounters. These arouse astonishment and make her wonder: could I be mad? How do I get the ideas I have, do others have them too, are they true because of that or do we live in a collective illusion? That really sounds a lot more critical than breathless admiration.

And then there is the intermediate position of Wislawa Szymborska. It seems as if in her poem ‘Inattention’ she opts for the sweet romantic approach, namely the one of the decent wonder about everyting existing: "I've lived a whole day without amazement". But on closer inspection there appears to be rather question of bewilderment: "The world could pass for an insane world, but I only used it for everyday use”.

Lately I catched myself in having, beside bewilderment, more wonder about some things than I've always thought I could have. For example I may be fascinated by the sound of a tone, or by a sunbeam. That such things exist! Perhaps these are signs that I become a bit calmer, or more balanced? Could be. If only it will not take the form of decent, uncritical, almost Catholic "assentment to all that exists".