Recent museum practice has seen a return to ‘wonder’ as a governing principle for display and visitor engagement. Wonder has long been a contentious topic in aesthetics, literary studies, and philosophy of religion, but its adoption in the museum world has been predominantly uncritical. Here I will suggest that museums draw on a concept of wonder that is largely unchanged from seventeenth-century philosophy, yet without taking account of early modern doubts about wonder's efficacy for knowledge. In this paper I look at Descartes' and Spinoza's views about wonder and the uses and disadvantages of wonder as a learning tool. This examination is extended to consider Descartes' and Spinoza's likely views about ‘museums’, in the sense of spaces that link objects both to feeling and to knowing. Finally, I suggest that there are resources in Spinoza's philosophy for bringing knowledge-enhancing feelings into the museum without resorting to the problematic concept of wonder.
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- School of Divinity, History & Philosophy, Philosophy - Personal Chair
- School of Divinity, History & Philosophy, Centre for Knowledge and Society (CEKAS)
- School of Divinity, History & Philosophy, George Washington Wilson Centre for Art and Visual Culture
- School of Divinity, History & Philosophy, Centre for Early Modern Studies
- School of Language, Literature, Music & Visual Culture, Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society & Rule of Law (CISRUL)