Philosophy as Wondering

I have taught out of several hundred philosophy books in my college teaching career. One textbook, Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering, had a prelude with a futuristic photo of a spaceship, missile launching, or futuristic house (depending on the edition) along with a few words from the author. It set the tone for the exploration upon which my students and I were about to embark.

Those words were simple, although philosophy is generally a difficult, esoteric pursuit. They were written by a professor who wanted to communicate with his heart, not impress students with his intellect. I think his words communicated the value of philosophy, especially for the uninitiated. Here is what he wrote:

The following pages may
lead you to wonder.
That’s really what philosophy
is—wondering.

To philosophize
is to wonder about life—
about right and wrong,
love and loneliness, war and death.
It is to wonder creatively
about freedom, truth, beauty, time
and a thousand other things.
To philosophize is
to explore life.
It especially means breaking free
to ask questions.
It means resisting
easy answers.
To philosophize
is to seek in oneself
the courage to ask
painful questions.

But if, by chance,
you have already asked
all your questions
and found all the answers—
if you’re sure you know
right from wrong,
and whether God exists,
and what justice means,
and why we mortals fear and hate and pray—
if indeed you have completed your wondering
about freedom and love and loneliness
and those thousand other things,
then the following pages
will waste your time.

Philosophy is for those
who are willing to be disturbed
with a creative disturbance.

Philosophy is for those
who still have the capacity
for wonder.

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8 thoughts on “Philosophy as Wondering

  1. Yes ,but beyond wondering, ph.y must also give us foundational ideas and plans for action for a more meaningful fife.
    Wondering is a necessary but not sufficient aspect of ph.y.
    Lets remember its literal meaning: the love of wisdom.
    And if I really love wisdom I must also act on it.
    Otherwise I just give ammunition for Marx’s devaluing of ph.y when he writes:
    The ph.ers merely interpreted the world. The task, however, is to change it.
    Contemplation therefore needs to be the springboard for action to contribute to the common good, if one aspires to be more in life than just a parasite.

  2. What’s so wonderful about wondering?

    I think the unstated underpinning of this piece (which I did enjoy) is the pleasure of exploring. Sometimes arriving at a destination, sometimes not, but gaining the insights and experience of searching, taking the trip…exploring.

  3. My childhood habit of asking why this or how come’s have led me often to conclude– why not? While I have found enough answers to fill a book, I know that there is an entire library I’ll never get through. The author’s sense of wonder and curiosity as a starting point is refreshing. Asking why has been my Alpha and hopefully will be my Omega.

  4. I agree. Reminiscent of Eliot’s “we shall not seek from exploration…”

  5. Philosophy has its origins in wondering. Not a huge statement, but as the Oracle, Rumsfeld, said, roughly, there are all sorts of knowns and unknowns. And, without a sense of wonder, we would hardly notice, much less care. Everything fits. I have asserted that the reason for confusion about reality and truth, is our focus on context. Insofar as context changes, so does our notion of reality. And, resultingly, truth. We make it up as we go. I wonder why that is?

  6. This showed up on my Feedspot philosophy aggregator — the “philosophy as wondering” grabbed my attention because it reminded me of my first philosophy professor at Santa Ana College, Dr. James Christian. Imagine my delight when I realized that this was a reference to the poem at the beginning of his popular textbook. Jim and I stayed in touch over the years and became friends — I still do a version of his first philosophy class assignment in my philosophy courses at Gallaudet University, and have taught Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering in my classes. My deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students, who are bilingual in ASL and English, have appreciated the visual accessibility of this textbook.

  7. Hi Teresa

    Delighted to hear from you about James Christian’s book. I used it many times in my classes and always enjoyed it. The first time I saw it was in my wife’s apartment when we met over 42 years ago. She had used it in a class and I found it immediately engaging. Years later I remembered it and used it in class.

    In addition, I included a quote from Lori Villamil on my website and some years ago she found it and emailed me, thanking me. Here is the quote,

    People who are on the journey are a lot more interesting than people who, having found answers, are in dry dock. ~Lori Villamil

    Sounds like Jim and Lori were kindred spirits. Thanks for contacting me, and all the best,

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