Saturday, April 21, 2012

Socrates and Frost

"Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder," said Socrates in Plato's Theaetetus, albeit in Jowett's translation not Levett's, who renders it "[wondering] is an experience which is characteristic of a philosopher ... this is where philosophy begins and nowhere else."

I like the idea of a "feeling" characteristic of philosophers, an emotional impulse to a conceptual notation. Likewise, we should have a conceptual occasion (a "thought") for an emotional notation, or poem. If wonder is what a philosopher "feels" before beginning to "think" then lust is what the poet "thinks" before beginning to "feel". In both cases, it is the beginning, not the end.

Robert Frost said that "poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom", which is as wrong as saying that philosophy ends in love (see this post for Derrida's views on love and philosophy). He was probably just being polite. Poetry begins in lust and ends in love.

Philosophy begins in wonder and ends in wisdom. Except, of course, that the poet and philosopher so often fail. We might say that the poet is trying to extract a love from a lustful overwhelming of desire. The philosopher is trying to derive wisdom from a wondrous overwhelming of belief.


Andrew Shields said...

I like that contrast in the translations between "wonder" and "wondering".

Wonder as something akin to awe, though somewhat gentler.

Wondering as a kind of thinking, somewhat different than thinking as such or the visual rhyme with pondering.

And then the difference between a feeling and an experience as something else worth ... wondering about.

Thomas said...

One wishes one were better at greek. It seems to me that Jowett consciously constructed an epigram, where as Levett did not try to make it pithy.