Philosophy and Wonder

Review by Tom Crosby of:
Strange Wonder: the Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe. Written by Mary-Jane Rubenstein. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-0231146326. $48.20 US.

Socratic wonder [thaumazein] “arises when the understanding cannot master that which lies closest — when surrounded by utterly ordinary concepts and things, the philosopher suddenly finds himself surrounded on all sides by aporia” (3). For Socrates, this wonder is where philosophy begins (3). Socratic wonder, however, ought not be confused with the serene contemplation from an arm-chair that the word wonder might connote for the contemporary reader; rather, Rubenstein wants to sustain the “frightening indeterminacy” of wonder which is “inherently ambivalent,” and in which both “amazement and terror” coincide (7; 9).

The object of Heideggerian wonder, properly realized, is the “everyday” — the most “usual” (30). Moreover, the late Heidegger’s mood of Verhaltenheit contains everything Rubenstein is seeking in Socratic thaumazein, precisely insofar as it moves “between the transcendent and the everyday” (39).

Rubenstein makes a compelling case that only hospitality to wonder can open “philosophy or politics or religion to the possibility of the transformative” (189). This beckons to another contribution borne by the book. Through a treatment of wonder, Rubenstein traverses not only philosophy but also religion, politics and ethics.

Tom Crosby
Boston College

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