One of my all-time favorite passages from Aristotle is in his Parts of Animals (Book 1, Chapter 5). After discussing some introductory taxonomic and methodological issues in the animal sciences, Aristotle expresses his wonder and fascination with all aspects of nature, great and small, beautiful to the eye and not:
“Having already treated of the celestial world, as far as our conjectures could reach, we proceed to treat of animals, without omitting, to the best of our ability, any member of the kingdom, however ignoble. For if some have no graces to charm the sense, yet even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit that designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation, and are inclined to philosophy. Indeed, it would be strange if mimic representations of them were attractive, because they disclose the mimetic skill of the painter or sculptor, and the original realities themselves were not more interesting, to all at any rate who have eyes to discern the reasons that determined their formation. We therefore must not recoil with childish aversion from the examination of the humbler animals. Every realm of nature is marvellous: and as Heraclitus, when the strangers who came to visit him found him warming himself at the furnace in the kitchen and hesitated to go in, reported to have bidden them not to be afraid to enter, as even in that kitchen divinities were present, so we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful. Absence of haphazard and conduciveness of everything to an end are to be found in Nature’s works in the highest degree, and the resultant end of her generations and combinations is a form of the beautiful” (645a).
A passionate quest for passionless truth indeed.
Aristotle’s enchantment with the world reminds me of this sentiment expressed 2,200 years later by John Stuart Mill:
“A cultivated mind — I do not mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has be taught, in any tolerable degree, to exercise its faculties — finds sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it: in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind, past and present, and their prospects for the future” (Utilitarianism, Chapter 2).
Some things never change, and I love it.