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Philosophy, Aristotle teaches us, begins in wonderment. The chief object of this wonderment is being itself; there is nothing more original andâ€”for that very reasonâ€”more worthy of wonderment than being. Since life is an original intensification of being tout court, living beings are correspondingly worthy of an original wonderment in their own right. They are original wholesâ€”original wholes that technÃª, art in the broadest acceptation, cannot replace, but can only â€œimitate,â€ albeit in an original manner. I will return to this point at the end of the essay.
By the term â€œliving being(s),â€ and its various equivalents (which I will be interchanging quite promiscuously), I mean living bodies (rather than, say, angels, whom I wonâ€™t be discussing here, though they are also living beings). To call living bodies â€œoriginal,â€ then, is to say that they are not inanimate bodies on which an extra property called â€œlifeâ€ supervenes; rather, they are bodies whose life, whose being alive, constitutes them as the bodies they are in the first place. Aristotle puts it like this: â€œ[F]or living things, to be is to be alive.â€ Life (in the sense of â€œto liveâ€ [zÃªn]) is the being (in the sense of â€œto beâ€ [einai]) of living things.In a certain sense, the original wholeness of living things can be known only through itself. Life, the actus vivendi, constitutes the living being as what Goethe calls an â€œUrphÃ¤nomen,â€ or â€œoriginal phenomenon,â€ which makes itself available for understandingâ€”precisely as a unity of intelligibility and mystery.
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