The book in a nutshell. It opened the history of thought; it has opened the history of thinking for many of us at different moments of our lives. For “it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize,” Aristotle wrote in his Metaphysics, in a well-rehearsed statement that later philosophical tradition would often revert to in accounting for its origins. Yet for a passion celebrated so widely as the origin of intellectual inquiry, wonder has led a singularly shadowy existence in our recent reflections. Philosophers have largely passed it over in silence; emotion theorists have shunned it as an unusual case that sits awkwardly within their analytical frameworks. Where it has been historically studied, it has often been to declare its demise, if not in our ordinary lives—how, after all, could an emotion typifying the experience of childhood be uprooted from these?—then as a passion that we self-consciously acknowledge as a prized element and motive force of our higher cultural activities.
My aim in this book is to reinstate wonder as a reflective object and to open an argument about its importance. What is wonder? And why does wonder matter? Answering these questions involves following the colourful tracks that wonder has carved through our intellectual history, not only in philosophy and science but also in art and religious experience, as it involves addressing the complex character of wonder as an emotional experience and linguistic phenomenon. For wonder may be pleasurable, but it may also lead us to suffer. Wonder may often naturally strike, but it may also need to be conquered. Wonder may move us, but it may also require us to stand vulnerably still. Wonder may be the place where thinking begins, but it may also be the place where it ends.
A richer “grammar” of wonder—a richer though open-textured story about its characteristic objects and feeling tones, its means of provocation and sources of value—can give us new tools for thinking about wonder and about the reasons why we might wish to make it central to our emotional lives.
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