Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mere Curiosity

A Curious Man
(Image from Suhrkamp Insel)

I believe that I mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago that Warren T. Reich had asked me to participate in his work on the history of care, focusing upon curiosity in the sense of what Hans Blumenberg called "The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity" in his great tome, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age.

I agreed to take part in this endeavor and so wrote an email to one of my old Berkeley mentors, John Heilbron, who now lives in a very small British village with only one pub but still manages to produce great works in the history of science:
Greetings from Jeff Hodges. I suppose that you're getting accustomed to my bolts out of the blue.

I hope that you are doing well, and I suppose that you've un-retired two or three times by now, despite your wife's wishes...

Your onetime mentioned desire that I become a scholar (a remark dating back to 1983 or thereabouts) might finally be coming to fruition. I had been asked by a Korean scholar to act as a respondant at an international conference last week, and one of the speakers was Warrren T. Reich, the man who founded the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, and his was one of the papers that I had to respond to.

I suppose that I must have learned some intellectual rigor, academic discipline, and research skills from the history-of-science program, for in Reich's reply to my response, he stated, "Professor Hodges' response to my paper was the finest that I have ever heard at any conference that I've attended." I was astonished, to say the least, for Professor Reich is 75 years old. I guess that I just happened to say the right things.

Anyway, he has asked me to participate in a research project on the history of "care" -- specifically, Care: A History of the Idea and Its Practice. Because I had mentioned the term "curiositas" and its treatment in Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Reich wants me to deal with the theme of curiosity and its relation to the developement of modern science. He also wants me to keep an eye to the project's larger theme, i.e., the history of "care."

I recalled from a seminar (perhaps the one that we held in Bancroft Library, a seminar in which Rebecca referred to Galileo as "dropping his balls"), that you once mentioned that "care" and "curiosity" are etymologically related. I believe that Blumenberg had also noted this in his book, but what I'm 'curious' to know is if you could suggest a bibliography relevant to this topic.

Don't go to any trouble, of course, and my role in this project is just one among 75 researchers, though I'd be a "Senior Research Scholar," which sounds honorable enough. If you're especially interested in knowing about the project, I could forward you the description that was sent to me on "Curiosity, Science, and Modernity."

At any rate, you might be interested in knowing what I'm up to these days.
John must have been out-of-village, for I didn't hear from him for over a week even though he's ordinarily very prompt. Here's his eventual reply:
Many congratulations on your performance as commentator and its results. Too often commentators just want to show off and say nothing useful to the speaker or the audience.

I don't know of a bibliography of care/curiosity. For curiosity/wonder in early modern science there is the not-so-good book by Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, which will give you some orientation. I would not be surprised if care/curiosity had an entry somewhere in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Other clues might be found in historical dictionaries like the OED. You might begin by reviewing the meaning of "curiosus" in Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary.

Take care.
Well, those are some places to start, and I have John's ironic blessing and will indeed take 'care'. I suppose that the paucity of information is a good sign that much remains to be done. I've already checked Amazon Books for what it has on the book by Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, which turns out to be titled Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. I've written a note to myself on this book:
Lorraine Daston is Director of Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and Katharine Park is Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science and Women's Studies at Harvard University, so the authors are reputable scholars.

However, John Heilbron, historian of science and one of my mentors at UC Berkeley, mentioned this book but characterized it as "not-so-good."

I've only seen it at Amazon, where I had access to its table of contents and index:

Table of Contents:

Chapter 3: Wonder Among the Philosophers (page 109):

The Philosophers against Wonder (page 110)
Curiosity and the Preternatural (page 120)

Chapter 8: The Passions of Inquiry (page 303)
Ravening Curiosity (page 305)
Wonder and Curiosity Allied (page 311)

Index (page 502): curiosity:

definitions of: 397, n. 57; 434, n. 12
Enlightenment rejection of: 303-16; 258-58; 356
and magic: 396, n. 51
medieval attitudes toward: 92; 122-25
seventeenth-century attitudes toward: 218; 273-74
terminology for: 434, n. 7

From what I've seen of the book at Amazon, it would appear to link curiosity to wonder and the older sense of the object of curiosity as something 'odd' -- more an object of wonder as presented in the tradition of "paradoxography" than as a phenomenon to be investigated, a 'curiosity' (though I gather that part of the book is a history of how attitudes toward curiosity changed and became more positive).
Anyway, this is part of my initial foray into the obscure, liminal territory of 'curiosities' -- that rare realm of remarkable wonders that surpass our reason. One question for me is how curiosity changed from a willful distraction from things serious to a serious faculty that we should care about and for.

Curious readers are invited to respond...

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At 8:09 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

My two cents.
To provide care, at times an investigation needed to define what care would entail. Care would stimulate curiosity.

This is probably not what you had in mind.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

"...we care not to keep the truth separated from truth, which is the fiercest rent and disunion of all."
Milton. Care seems to be an important stitch word in "Areopagitica".

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, it might have played some role, Hathor. I won't really know until I get into the material . . . and I still might never know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics. I'll certainly have to look into Milton on that -- and see what he has to say about curiosity, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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