Wonder (θαυμάζειν) for both Aristotle and for Plato was the beginning of Philosophy (cf. Theaetetus & Metaphysics). This distinctive mark of authentic philosophy serves to:
A. Distinguish philosophy from the arts and sciences
The arts and sciences begin from need. How can I feed my family or move this rock? The sciences may move on to theoretical questions such as “what is a rock?” but this question may not achieve a distinctive philosophical attitude. One may classify rocks according to their kinds and how they can be manipulated for use. But the classification or identification of material stops short of seeing a rock as a rock. It does not answer the question ‘what’, but often assumes a definition. Yet we want to know what it is to be a rock, and how its existence is different than water, or fire, or ours. The meteorologist must assume these answers largely.
B. Preserves philosophy’s or the philosopher’s authentic engagement with reality
It is not the scientist, but rather the man who longs to know the sources and causes of things. He sees rocks fall and wants to know not just how fast they fall, but why it is that rocks fall (after all, some things don’t). And what is motion anyhow? He wants to know not only what motion is but whether all things are in motion. This questioning being is himself sometimes in motion and sometimes not; he is alive now, and will one day die. Why? What is he, this being that thinks about things, that moves himself, that desires not just to answer physical needs, who does not feel he is fully himself unless he knows the world in which he lives. The question of rocks, of rainbows, of lightening and thunder, and of himself cannot be answered satisfactorily from the technical standpoint. Man doesn’t want just answers, he wants to fully behold what he now sees only in part (θαυμάζειν)
C. Locate in simplicity the profound
We see rocks, people, rainbows, and fish. We sing songs and pray. We long for happiness. In each experience, the flash of a fish in the sunlight as I draw it out of the water, there is something of wonder—wonder at life, at beauty, at existence itself. My questions are not about the nature of scales and reflectivity (though I might ask about this), but what is this delight I feel before the flashing life of the fish. Why is my heart drawn out to existence and being in this manner? What is being? If I am drawn out by rocks and trees and fish, am I different than them or the same? If I long for something which is only somewhat present in my wonder, what am I longing after. Philosophy takes us to questions and experiences which are prior to those of technical science, even if such science is never wholly severed from those springs. Philosophy is a primal reckoning with being and our being situated in the world. To know philosophically, I wish to know not only the details of things, but to be related more deeply to them to all things, and so I wish for what is simple or actual over and above the analysis of parts.