A state of mind excited by the perception of novelty or of something strange or not well understood. Both plato and aristotle speak of wonder as the point of origin for philosophy. In the Theaetetus, Socrates is recorded as saying, "Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder" (155D). Similarly, Aristotle refers to earlier philosophers when showing that wisdom is a speculative rather than a practical science: "It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize…. Anda man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant …. Since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end" (Metaphysics 982b 11–21).
The Greek verb used in these texts is θαυμάζειν, which can be translated by "wonder at" or "be astonished at," although the latter is perhaps too passive a sense to designate the origin of philosophical inquiry. St. thomas aquinas translates the Greek with the Latin admirari, a word that means "to regard with wonder." As is the case with many words referring to knowledge, wonder involves a reference to the sense of sight. One's attention is arrested by something, he fixes his gaze upon it and undertakes to grasp it well. Yet wonder implies the intervention of intellect in the process of knowing; it has a contemplative aspect not associated with animal knowing.
Kinds. Wonder sometimes signifies a feeling of reverence or awe appropriately referred to the divine. In Is9.5 "a child is born to us" who is given the title "Wonderful" (or "Wonder-Counselor"); the Hebrew word used here is elsewhere attributed only to the marvelous works of God. This is a sense of wonder that has for its object a good that is admired for its greatness and beauty—something precious in the sight of men.
Another sense of wonder is the wonder caused by ignorance. St. Thomas, in commenting on the text of Aristotle cited above, indicates that wonder (admiratio ) comes from ignorance, because when one sees effects whose cause is hidden from him, he then wonders at the cause (In 1 meta. 3.55). Such an object may surpass the knower's powers or at least be new or unusual to him. While it is ignorance that is the cause of wonder, a search for the truth is its result. This sense of wonder, then, is referred to knowledge.
The wonder of awe is concerned with the greatness of its object, while the wonder caused by ignorance is concerned with the hidden cause of something regarded as extraordinary. The immediate effect of the first is praise, but of the second it is inquiry. Both kinds of wonder yield a certain pleasure, but the pleasure of the wonder of awe comes from contemplating a splendid object, whereas the pleasure of the other comes from the exercise of the power of reasoning, an activity connatural to man, as well as from the hope of achieving the good of the intellect.
Wonder and Truth. St. Thomas makes a perceptive analysis of man's experience of the wonder associated with an inquiry after truth (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 41.4 ad 5; 32.8). With ignorance its starting point and science its goal, a kind of tension is set up between these two terms. There is on the one hand a fear of ignorance and on the other a desire for and a hope of attaining knowledge. A desire for knowledge is in a general way natural to man, and a desire to know a particular object is stimulated when it is seen as unexplained. But when one recognizes his own ignorance of the object, he is thereby acknowledging an evil for his own intellect. Since he does not know the reason for what he sees, he fears to commit himself because of the danger of being wrong. His desire for knowledge will be frustrated if his ignorance persists; he will be deprived of the goal of knowledge. However, the very possibility, difficult though it may be, of discovering the hidden cause for what he has observed is what gives rise to hope. The very hope of discovery, which is an element of wonder, makes wonder a source of pleasure. Hope is, in fact, the element that impels the inquirer to pursue his search for the truth. It is wonder that makes the natural desire to know effective. The moral virtue that guides the good exercise of wonder is studiousness (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 166, 167, 182; on intellectual dispositions, see Aristotle, Metaphysics 995a 1–18).
See Also: doubt; opinion; aporia.
Bibliography: j. m. baldwin, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, 3 v. in 4 (New York 1901–05; repr. Gloucester 1949–57) 2:820–821. l. m. rÉgis, Epistemology, tr. i. c. byrne (New York 1959). g. godin, "La notion d'admiration," Laval théologique et philosophique 17 (1961) 35–75; "L'Admiration, principe de la recherche philosophique," ibid. 213–242.
[h. j. du lac]
won·der / ˈwəndər/ • n. a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable: he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child. ∎ the quality of a person or thing that causes such a feeling: Athens was a place of wonder and beauty. ∎ a strange or remarkable person, thing, or event: the electric trolley car was looked upon as the wonder of the age. ∎ [as adj.] having remarkable properties or abilities: a wonder drug. ∎ [in sing.] a surprising event or situation: it is a wonder that losses are not much greater.• v. [intr.] 1. desire or be curious to know something: how many times have I written that, I wonder? | I can't help wondering how Stasia and Katie are feeling. ∎ used to express a polite question or request: I wonder whether you have thought more about it? ∎ feel doubt: I wonder about such a marriage. 2. feel admiration and amazement; marvel: people stood by and wondered at such bravery | [as adj.] (wondering) a wondering look on her face. ∎ be surprised: if I feel compassion for her, it is not to be wondered at.PHRASES: I shouldn't wonder inf., chiefly Brit. I think it likely.no (or little or small) wonder it is not surprising: it is little wonder that the fax machine is so popular.ninety-day (or thirty-day or one-day) wonder something that attracts enthusiastic interest for a short while but is then ignored or forgotten. ∎ (usu. ninety-day (or thirty-day) wonder) a person who has had intensive military training for the specified time.wonders will never cease an exclamation of great surprise at something pleasing.work (or do) wonders have a very beneficial effect on someone or something: a good night's sleep can work wonders for mind and body.DERIVATIVES: won·der·er n.won·der·ing·ly adv.