Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism

Zanchi’s Aristotle (3)

In this section (first see parts 1 and 2), Zanchi continues his exposition of philosophy as a revelation of God. To defend his position, he has to deal with those who think it is a discover of man. Isn’t that what Plato and Aristotle teach in saying that philosophy begins in wonder (τὸ θαυμάζειν)–that is, do they not teach that it is man’s invention? Zanchi wishes to accept the proposition in a qualified sense: man, seeing effects in nature, is impelled to seek their causes. But, as we shall see in a following installment, this does not mean for Zanchi that philosophy has no divine source.

There are some, indeed, who insist that [philosophy] was discovered by men–specifically, from the beholding of and wonder at the things that their eyes were seeing but of whose causes they were ignorant. For they say that among men there are three kinds of teaching: inspired, as is our theology; discovered, as is philosophy; and mixed, as is divination. And Plato and Aristotle, who wrote that philosophy is the daughter of wonder, or proceeded from men’s wonder, indeed seem to teach the manner in which it was discovered. For the former in the Theaetetus introduces Socrates speaking as follows: “To be in wonder–this is very much the experience of a philosopher; for philosophy has no other beginning than this, and the one who said that Iris was the daughter of Thaumas seems to trace her genealogy well.”1 And the latter too wrote as follows in Metaphysics 1.2: “For through being in wonder, men, both now and at first, began to philosophize.”2 But surely these two most outstanding philosophers intended to teach nothing else by these words except that the beginning from which men at first begin to philosophize is wonder–namely, when, seeing effects, because they are ignorant of their causes they are in wonder; from this they at first undertake to investigate causes, and then philosophy has been begun. But it is complete when men are no more in wonder–as Pythagoras said that philosophy was “to be in wonder at nothing”–3 that is to say, when we know effects in such a way that we are ignorant of none of their casues; nor do we deny it.4

  1. Plato, Theataetus 155D2-6. Harold North Fowler’s note in the old Loeb is useful: “Hes[iod], Theog[ony] 780. Iris is the messenger of heaven, and Plato interprets the name of her father as ‘Wonder’ (θαῦμα).” Zanchi here perhaps insinuates that he understands the origin of philosophy better than those who quote Plato about this, or even than Plato himself, whom he is about to critique in a qualified way on a related point; for Zanchi believes philosophy proceeds from a divine source, as Hesiod seems to have believed as well if, as in Plato’s mind, Iris (=the divine messenger) is to be equated with philosophy. Therefore, philosophy cannot be the discovery of man in any absolute sense. In general, as will be seen, Zanchi will agree with Plato and Aristotle on this point (viz., that philosophy begins in wonder) only if it is understood in a specific way.
  2. Metaphysics 982b12-13.
  3. The remark is found in Plutarch, De recta ratione audiendi 13. The phrase comes into Latin as nihil admirari or nil admirari. I was interested to learn from Wikipedia that Nietzsche thought that “in this proposition the ancient philosopher ‘sees the whole of philosophy,'” which Nietzsche “oppos[ed]…to Schopenhauer’s admirari id est philosophari (to marvel is to philosophize).”
  4. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.