Wonder as an Experience of Beauty

Dissertation, University of Illinois, Chicago (2022)
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Wonder plays a role in many aspects of our lives—e.g., in appreciating art and nature, religious experiences, and scientific and philosophical inquiry— and there is a wide variety of intuitive cases of the experience. This diversity raises philosophically interesting questions like, What is wonder? In what ways is this experience valuable? Are there objects at which we ought not wonder? Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes note the significance of wonder, yet there have been few attempts to answer these questions in a systematic way. My dissertation aims to provide such answers. I show how understanding wonder as a type of experience of beauty—an idea that has not received serious attention—reveals new insights about wonder’s nature and value. After I examine and make necessary modifications to features of wonder that are often cited in the literature, I further develop my picture of wonder and its relation to beauty by drawing on Alexander Nehamas’s account of the latter. My characterization of wonder and the inquiry associated with this experience provides resources for thinking about the normative evaluations that we can make about episodes of wonder. Drawing on these investigations and neo-Aristotelian work on virtue, I develop an account of virtuous wonder (i.e., the disposition to experience wonder in appropriate ways) and argue that this trait is an aesthetic and intellectual virtue. Similarly, I bring together Aristotelian ideas and my previous insights to propose methods for cultivating this character virtue.

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Eric MacTaggart
Boston University


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