Hans-Georg Gadamer at Great Falls, VA
Copyright © 1971 Gordon L. Ziniewicz

An Introduction to Philosophy

Gordon L. Ziniewicz


According to Plato, philosophy begins in wonder. This "wonder" implies, in the first place, an awe inspired by the manifest beauty, complexity, and mystery of nature as a whole and the things within nature. The stretch of a rainbow, the explosion of a thunderstorm, the design of a leaf -- all such things have power to quiet the busy soul, to make one stop and think. This leads us to a second part of "wonder," a curiosity and a desire to ask why things are the way they are, what they mean, what they are about. One looks for causes, for purposes, for rational explanations. This is especially and urgently so in the case of that awe which is bound up with anxiety, fear of the unknown, and a feeling of helplessness in the face of the trouble that events can visit upon us. Whether the questions are about the beauty we are thankful for or the dilemmas that pain us, they are questions that mark the beginning of thought, the launching of reflection. Not having the answers to these questions makes us eager to look for them. But there is a tease in this process: the more things we figure out, the more new things we discover that perplex us, the more wonder we feel, and the more questions we raise.

There is something unsettling about this whole process.  The search for answers often leads to more and more questions.  We bring this process to a halt only to the extent that we no longer feel wonder, that we cease to ask questions, and that we fool ourselves into believing that we already know what it is all about.  Indeed, we can succeed at taking things for granted for a little while, especially when things go our way and trouble is not on the horizon.  Most of us, however, get awakened from our routine and complacency by setbacks and troubles, which force us to "stop and think."  We become, by compulsion, "philosophical" or reflective all over again.

One tendency of the philosophical attitude is to find trouble where there is none, to discover mystery in the commonplace, to wonder about things that more often than not are taken for granted.  In this sense, the habit of philosophy is to unsettle things, to introduce questions, and to raise difficulties.  This gives philosophy a unique personal and social value.  It keeps individuals and societies on their toes -- alert, awake, appreciative, and responsive.  The purpose of this introduction to Philosophy is to develop the habit of asking questions and thinking what we are about.

This series will attempt to develop the habit of reflection by means of a give-and-take encounter with some of the great ideas of Western and Eastern philosophy. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, we will examine some of the major issues that have occupied human beings then and ever since: questions about the universe we live in, the meaning of our individual lives, the ways we live together, the things we make, the things we hold dear, and the dreams we dream.

Each session will begin with an explanatory lecture by Gordon Ziniewicz. It will be most helpful for attendees to have thoroughly prepared for each session by reading the essay and supplementary works scheduled for that day. Each lecture will be followed by lively discussion and debate of the key concepts presented. The quality of this exchange of ideas will be enhanced to the extent that participants have studied and thought about the readings. Hopefully, by working together, we will expand our individual capacities for imaginative and vigorous thought.

Participants will be notified of schedule changes, should these be necessary. We will be flexible in case we feel the need to extend our discussion of a particular theme. Philosophy should take its time and should not be constrained by clocks and calendars.


On the whole, the series will attend to primary source texts that focus on a number of themes, such as contemplation/action, meditation/conversation, solitude/society, nature/art, and experience/insight. By weighing these and similar themes, we will atempt to reach an integrated view -- albeit a provisional one -- of the underlying alternative assumptions which operate almost imperceptibly beneath the constructs of our civilization. We will attempt to think critically about and to bring to light the hidden and the taken for granted, to amplify and to echo what is, for the most part, undertone and overtone in our experience.

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Copyright © 1995 - 2013 Gordon L. Ziniewicz

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.