Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cornelis Verhoeven

When I was 20 or so, in one of the several used book shops I haunted, I found a little hardcover in a purple jacket with the modest title
The Philosophy of Wonder. The author was a philosopher from the Netherlands named Cornelis Verhoeven. I had never heard of him.

The Philosophy of Wonder is subtitled "An introduction and incitement to philosophy." For Verhoeven, philosophy not only begins in wonder, it remains oriented by it. "Whatever does not deal with everything, taking wonder as its starting point, deals with nothing from the philosophical point of view." Verhoeven tarries with wonder, keeps coming back to it, shows how philosophy overcomes it only to be overcome, again and again. He looks carefully at the ways wonder is undermined by boredom, or radicalized into bewilderment or panic, or twisted in alientation. He reads main figures of the tradition--Plato, Augustine, Kant, Heidegger, and others--with care and love, but his book is never a commentary. He meditates on standing in a checkout line, on the difference between a party and a feast, on the pleasures of conversing with a connoisseur, on what it means to grow up. In his balance of urbanity, modesty, and moral seriousness, (though not in his doctrines), Verhoeven reminds me of Santayana, or Lavelle, or Alain. There's a beauty and elegance and quiet to this book; a work of the flawlessly civilized and educated that can look impassively on what lies beyond the idols of civilization.

Verhoeven is a famous thinker in the Netherlands, and a website in Dutch is devoted to him; but he is more or less unknown in America, and the translation of
The Philosophy of Wonder, in 1973, was never followed up by any others, as far as I know. I think this is a shame. A few months ago, however, I discovered to my great pleasure that there were indeed a few essays of Verhoeven's online, in English. The translation has been done by his son, Daan Verhoeven, a photographer, diver and web designer; you can find them by searching for "Cornelis Verhoeven" among the post labels. These are very beautiful essays, and the occasional memoirs by Daan Verhoeven are also quite moving (I was especially struck by the one about his father's writing-desk). You can also see a number of Daan Verhoeven's beautiful photographs.

Cornelis Verhoeven was born on February 2, 1928. He would have been 82 years old today. His son Daan has put a new translation up today for the occasion.


  1. Thank you for your kind words. I'll keep translating my father's work, and also try to encourage others to do so.

  2. I was looking for books with wonder and philosophy at the same place, luckly i found your enlightening review.Could you indicate any other book on this subject, maybe as central as Verhoeven was? Thank you.

  3. Rafael,

    two titles that readily come to mind (from my own "current" reading -- the scare quotes are there because I have more books than I care to admit to checked out from my local academic library) are 'Wonder' and other essays by Ronald Hepburn and The recovery of wonder by Kenneth Schmitz. The former may be more what you are asking after.