"This feeling of wonder shows that you are a philosopher,
since wonder is the only beginning of philosophy"
(Theaet., 155 d)

It is well known that it was Plato who in his Theaetetus indicated the pathos of wonder as the first principle, as the arche of philosophy: «for wonder is the pathos of a true philosopher. There is indeed no other principle [arche] for philosophy than this, and he who said [that is, Hesiod] that Iris was the child of Thaumas was not a bad genealogist» (Teaet., 155 d). Iris is the rainbow that, for Plato, is the erotical link between the earth and the sky and represents the atopic condition of humankind. Therefore, Iris personifies Philosophy. By referring to the genealogy that sees Iris as descended from Thaumas, Plato means to underline that apart from wonder (Thaumas) there is no other father (principle) that can generate philosophy. But what kind of wonder?

First of all, it is a type of wonder that makes one dizzy. As Theaetetus himself remarks: «To tell you the truth, Socrates, I am lost in wonder when I think about all these things, and sometimes, when I keep regarding them, this makes me really dizzy» (Theaet., 155c). He who feels wonder lives in a halfway condition between the topos of environmental closure, in which an animal feels bewildered, and the topos of Olympus where the gods gifted with perfection and sophia live. Instead, an atopic being feels dizzy because she is temperamental and unstable, and doesn’t have her feet on the ground: in fact, she is not rooted in the ground, as the other terrestrial plants, but she hangs in the air by the hair.

Secondly, the wonder that destabilizes and causes dizziness is not the arche of a spell, not even the bite of a narcotizing poison. It is rather the pathos of one who reawakens all of a sudden from an infatuation and grasps what surrounds her from a different perspective, therefore with surprise. Wonder would become a narcotic only if it revealed itself as astonishment in front of the miracle that feigns to break the physical laws or as an escape into the afterworld or as an uncritical submission to a kosmos noetos, not if it is a feeling that impairs the obviousness of the common sense devices we have lived immersed in since our birth. In such reawakening, one would look at the same things as before, but with a new point of view, so being able to experience a feeling of surprise even at what had been taken for granted beforehand. Indeed, in some cases, one could even feel wonder towards what had previously appeared as most obvious and banal: one’s own existence. It is perhaps in this sense that wonder may become the generating experience of a philosophy meant as an exercise of transformation. To wonder at one’s own existence means taking the first step towards learning how to live, that is learning to conceive one’s own life not as something evident and banal, but rather as a surprise.

Consequently, wonder is not a merely intellectual experience. It might seem trivial to state it, but to understand something and to live something are two quite different experiences. However, those who practice Philosophy often think that an erudite understanding of this passage from Theaetetus can be sufficient. Perhaps there is instead a much more concrete and demanding request hidden in its folds. To “feel”, with a first person perspective, a specific pathos: that means, to be imbued neither with a dazing nor a self-satisfied kind of wonder, but rather with the wonder that makes Theaetetus dizzy and that, by destabilizing him atopically, becomes maieutically generative, i.e. the arche of philosophy. Therefore, besides the mere understanding of the quoted passage, also the direct “feeling” of that particular pathos described in it is needed. In this case, that passage would become an annunciation, that is, a message meant to destabilize and transform.

The basic aim of this cultural project, from which the journal and its book series have been born, is mainly to promote a non-reductionist reflection on the human condition, by offering an open-minded space of critical discussion on a philosophy to be first and foremost lived as exercise for personal reawaking and transformation. This implies the capacity of a new openness to the periphery, that is, towards themes and authors that have not been at the core of – or even regarded with suspicion in – the philosophical debate during the last decades. To that end, the most productive solution is to characterize this journal also by promoting and highlighting a dialogue among scholars of ancient, modern and contemporary Philosophy.

Guido Cusinato


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