By Christopher Long (W&M Regular Contributor)
I endeavor to practice philosophy, and philosophy begins in wonder. Aristotle puts it well toward the beginning of the Metaphysics:
For it is through wondering that human-beings both now and at first began to philosophize, wondering first about the strange things close at hand, and then little by little in this way devotedly exerting themselves and coming to impasses about greater things, such as about the attributes of the moon and things pertaining to the sun and the stars and the coming-into-being of the whole. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, I.2, 982b11-17, translation mine from Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, 4-5)
Philosophy involves the attempt to move from the surface to the depth of things, and Aristotle is right to think of it as requiring devoted exertion. But philosophy also brings us hard up against our finitude, an experience we too often seek to evade by taking refuge in certainties posited dogmatically. But the philosophical activity is impoverished by dogmatism, for philosophy is at heart a collaborative endeavor to respond to the nature of things in ways that return us to our relationships with one another and the world enriched.
Part of the difficulty of it is learning how to respond to the experience of finitude in ways that open rather than close possibilities of relation. My daughters help me with that, as my then 6 year old (who I call “ArtGirl” on the web) reminded me one evening before bed. I love how those quiet moments at the end of the day open the space for philosophy. Listen to what she said:
The wonder of it for me is how her voice articulates our shared finitude without anxiety or worry; and how she invites us to join her in the experience.
Christopher Long is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State and Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics. He is the author of two books on Aristotle, The Ethics of Ontology (SUNY 2004) and Aristotle on the Nature of Truth (Cambridge 2011). You can follow him on his blog, the Long Road and on Twitter @cplong.