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Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University): “Wonder, Magic, and Why We Do Philosophy”

Helen De Cruz, Spring 21 UGA Dept of Philosophy Kleiner lecture series
Helen De Cruz
University of St. Louis
Co-organized with the Department of Religion; online lecture, registration info below
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Abstract for Wonder, magic, and Why We Do Philosophy": 

Several philosophers have regarded wonder as the beginning of philosophy. For example, Aristotle in the Metaphysics speculates that "it is owing to their wonder (to thaumazein) that humans both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g., about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe.”  Likewise, Plato, Descartes, and Smith, have theorized about wonder as an emotion we experience in the face of unusual and novel situations. It is also common for philosophers who have speculated about wonder (e.g., Adam Smith, Aristotle) to see it not only as the beginning of philosophy, but also of science and religion. In this paper, I will draw on cognitive science to understand the emotion of wonder, with special attention to the cognitive science of stage magic, where the aim of magicians is to elicit this emotion in spectators. I understand wonder as an epistemic and self-transcendent emotion that focuses our attention on peculiar details and situations, but also broadens our scope toward big picture questions, and that motivate our attempts to answer those questions in the context of philosophy, science and religion. I will conclude with some consequences on what this means for why we do philosophy. 

Helen De Cruz holds the Danforth Chair in the Humanities at Saint Louis University. Her research is focused in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of religion, and experimental philosophy. Recent publications include Religious Disagreement (2019) and Philosophy through Science Fiction Stories: Exploring the Boundaries of the Possible (co-edited with Johan De Smedt and Eric Schwitzgebel, 2021).

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