Monday, December 03, 2007

Christianity and Reason: The 'Vice' of Curiosity...

On the 'vice' of curiosity...
(Image from Wikipedia) exemplified by this blog and its topics.

Today, I am curious about the 'vice' of curiosity. So was Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica, in the "Second Part of the Second Part," he raises "Question 167," which concerns "Curiosity" and actually poses two questions:
"Can the vice of curiosity regard intellective knowledge? ... Article 1. Whether curiosity can be about intellective knowledge?"

"Is it about sensitive knowledge? ... Article 2. Whether the vice of curiosity is about sensitive knowledge?"
Notice that in both sub-questions, Aquinas presupposes that curiosity is a vice, i.e., the opposite of a virtue. This view of curiosity as a vice comes down to Aquinas from Christian tradition, and he cites such varied sources as the quasi-canonical intertestamental Jewish book by the 2nd-century BC Ben Sirach and the late 4th- to early 5th-century AD Christian theologian Augustine.

Now if one reads carefully what Aquinas says in "Question 167," one sees that he in fact defends properly attained knowledge -- both intellective (i.e., of the intellect) and sensitive (i.e., of the senses) -- from the accusation of being attained through practicing the vice of curiosity.

Nevertheless, curiosity itself is a vice.

Curiosity is an "intellective" vice, for example, in the following case borrowed from Ben Sirach:
Fourthly, when a man studies to know the truth above the capacity of his own intelligence, since by so doing men easily fall into error: wherefore it is written (Sirach 3:22): "Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability . . . and in many of His works be not curious," and further on (Sirach 3:26), "For . . . the suspicion of them hath deceived many, and hath detained their minds in vanity."
And curiosity is a "sensitive" vice, for example, when employed as follows:
Accordingly to employ study for the purpose of knowing sensible things may be sinful in two ways. First, when the sensitive knowledge is not directed to something useful, but turns man away from some useful consideration. Hence Augustine says (Confess. x, 35), "I go no more to see a dog coursing a hare in the circus; but in the open country, if I happen to be passing, that coursing haply will distract me from some weighty thought, and draw me after it . . . and unless Thou, having made me see my weakness, didst speedily admonish me, I become foolishly dull." Secondly, when the knowledge of sensible things is directed to something harmful, as looking on a woman is directed to lust....
In what Hans Blumenberg calls "The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity," Aquinas plays a more positive role than Augustine, for Aquinas defends "inquiry" from the charge of "curiositas":
The Augustinian idea of the inquiry that does not maintain the proper religious connection, the non religiose quaerere [i.e., nonreligious inquiry], finds in Thomas a very characteristic modification and Aristotelianizing correction. (Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT University Press, 1983), translated by Robert M. Wallace, page 332)
Aquinas, therefore, is playing a positive role in defending inquiry, but the fact that a defense is required against the charge that inquiry is an instance of the vice curiositas is itself a fact of impressive significance.

I'll return to this tomorrow.

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At 9:18 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

What is the opposite then?
My teacher told me once that curiosity was a vice and the something(cant remember) was the virtue. then we started debating.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't think curiosity is a vice, but the medieval Christian view classified it as a form of sloth, so I suspect that the 'opposite' would be the virtue of "diligence" or "industriousness."

Jeffery Hodges

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