Socrates famously said, "Wonder begets wisdom."

Where is this passage from and what is the full text translation?

There seems to be some great missing context...

1 Answer 1


The most famous passage where Plato treats of this is in the Theaetetus, 155c-d, which is a dialog about the nature of knowledge. At one point, we have the following interchange between Socrates and Theaetetus:

καὶ νὴ τοὺς θεούς γε, ὦ Σώκρατες, ὑπερφυῶς ὡς θαυμάζω τί ποτ᾽ ἐστὶ ταῦτα, καὶ ἐνίοτε ὡς ἀληθῶς βλέπων εἰς αὐτὰ σκοτοδινιῶ.

Θεόδωρος γάρ, ὦ φίλε, φαίνεται οὐ κακῶς τοπάζειν περὶ τῆς φύσεώς σου. μάλα γὰρ φιλοσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, τὸ θαυμάζειν: οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας ἢ αὕτη, καὶ ἔοικεν ὁ τὴν Ἶριν Θαύμαντος ἔκγονον φήσας οὐ κακῶς γενεαλογεῖν. ἀλλὰ πότερον μανθάνεις ἤδη δι᾽ ὃ ταῦτα τοιαῦτ᾽ ἐστὶν ἐξ ὧν τὸν Πρωταγόραν φαμὲν λέγειν, ἢ οὔπω;

Here is Jowett's translation:

Theaet. Yes, Socrates, and I am amazed when I think of them; by the Gods I am! and I want to know what on earth they mean; and there are times when my head quite swims with the contemplation of them.

Soc. I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher, for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder. He was not a bad genealogist who said that Iris (the messenger of heaven) is the child of Thaumas (wonder). But do you begin to see what is the explanation of this perplexity on the hypothesis which we attribute to Protagoras?

(My quibble with this translation: Jowett translates Theaetetus' "θαυμάζω" as "amazed," even though it's the same word that he later translates as "wonder.")

Aristotle, Plato's best student, echoes this statement almost exactly in Metaphysics A.2 (982b):

διὰ γὰρ τὸ θαυμάζειν οἱ ἄνθρωποι καὶ νῦν καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἤρξαντο φιλοσοφεῖν, ἐξ ἀρχῆς μὲν τὰ πρόχειρα τῶν ἀτόπων θαυμάσαντες, εἶτα κατὰ μικρὸν οὕτω προϊόντες καὶ περὶ τῶν μειζόνων διαπορήσαντες, οἷον περί τε τῶν τῆς σελήνης παθημάτων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν ἥλιον καὶ ἄστρα καὶ περὶ τῆς τοῦ παντὸς γενέσεως. ὁ δ᾽ ἀπορῶν καὶ θαυμάζων οἴεται ἀγνοεῖν (διὸ καὶ ὁ φιλόμυθος φιλόσοφός πώς ἐστιν: ὁ γὰρ μῦθος σύγκειται ἐκ θαυμασίων): ὥστ᾽ εἴπερ διὰ τὸ φεύγειν τὴν ἄγνοιαν ἐφιλοσόφησαν, φανερὸν ὅτι διὰ τὸ εἰδέναι τὸ ἐπίστασθαι ἐδίωκον καὶ οὐ χρήσεώς τινος ἕνεκεν.

Ross's translation:

For it is owing to their wonder that men 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. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end.

  • Awesome. Thank you for this!!
    – Matthew
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 14:33

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