Meraviglia, perplessità, aporia: cognizioni ed emozioni alle radici della ricerca filosofica

Linda M. Napolitano Valditara


Wondering, perplexity, aporia: cognitions and emotions as roots of philosophical researching

As recalled in the publishing project of this review «Thaumàzein», two famous ancient passages, in Plato’s Theaetetus (155d) and Aristotle’s Metaphysics (982b,) regard wondering (thaumazein) as the origin of philosophical researching. Many scholars rightly assume as a starting point that wondering (astonishment, étonnement, meraviglia) is the basic «pathos» philosophy must be traced back to and the actual origin of every philosophical researching. It has been seen as a men’s proper skill, even more an essential condition to human being and a criterium according to which a new history of philosophy may be outlined (Jeanne Hersch, 1981; Enrico Berti, 2007). Other scholars have assimilated wondering and perplexity: the American philosopher and educationist Gareth B. Matthews has devoted a whole study to «Socratic perplexity» deemed as the «nature» itself of philosophy. Marìa Zambrano, in her Hacia un saber sobre el alma, recalls Maimonides, saying that puzzling people are searching the determination they lack of and, although different alternatives stand in front of them, can choose neither. However, what exactly is wondering (thaumazein)? Are wondering (thaumazein) and being puzzled (perplexity) the same status? We show that: i) we must distinguish between wondering (thaumazein) and marveling (admirari); ii) the ancient verb aporein, used by Plato and Aristotle, mean both wondering and being puzzled; iii) this verb – and the many similar and opposed Greek terms – help to clarify the nature both of wondering and being puzzled; iiii) aporein also allows, both in Plato and Aristotle, an euporein, namely an overcoming, time by time, of wondering itself. Finally we explore whether, according to Plato, thaumazein/aporein is a purely cognitive mental state, or, as a «pathos», it involves by nature also affective states. Being this the case, we try to define what these emotions may be, and we find a central, basic role played by love of knowledge (philosophia), opposed to other negative emotions (shame, confusion, instability, fear or envy of others, etc.). Nevertheless, taken for granted this emotional qualification, thaumazein/ aporein is not an irrational state we can only take lying down, but something which is possible to sistematically employ as a method for researching. However, for achieving this goal, we need to take a daily care not only of our knowledges, but also of the desires and emotions we may feel.


Linda Napolitano; Theaetetus; Plato; pathos

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