Friday, January 28, 2005

Aquinas on Curiousity...

It's hard to pick out something representative of Aquinas - however, I think that the following captures something of his approach to human and divine knowledge and manages to combine two themes so often divorced these days - knowledge and virtue:
As stated above (166, 2, ad 2) studiousness is directly, not about knowledge
itself, but about the desire and study in the pursuit of knowledge. Now we must
judge differently of the knowledge itself of truth, and of the desire and study
in the pursuit of the knowledge of truth. For the knowledge of truth, strictly
speaking, is good, but it may be evil accidentally, by reason of some result,
either because one takes pride in knowing the truth, according to 1 Cor. 8:1,
"Knowledge puffeth up," or because one uses the knowledge of truth in order to
On the other hand, the desire or study in pursuing the knowledge of
truth may be right or wrong. First, when one tends by his study to the knowledge
of truth as having evil accidentally annexed to it, for instance those who study
to know the truth that they may take pride in their knowledge. Hence Augustine says (De Morib.
Eccl. 21): "Some there are who forsaking virtue, and ignorant of what God is,
and of the majesty of that nature which ever remains the same, imagine they are
doing something great, if with surpassing curiosity and keenness they explore
the whole mass of this body which we call the world. So great a pride is thus
begotten, that one would think they dwelt in the very heavens about which they
argue." On like manner, those who study to learn something in order to sin are
engaged in a sinful study, according to the saying of Jer. 9:5, "They have
taught their tongue to speak lies, they have labored to commit iniquity."
Secondly, there may be sin by reason of the appetite or study directed to
the learning of truth being itself inordinate; and this in four ways. First,
when a man is withdrawn by a less profitable study from a study that is an
obligation incumbent on him; hence Jerome says [Epist. xxi ad
Damas]: "We see priests forsaking the gospels and the prophets, reading
stage-plays, and singing the love songs of pastoral idylls." Secondly, when a
man studies to learn of one, by whom it is unlawful to be taught, as in the case
of those who seek to know the future through the demons. This is superstitious
curiosity, of which Augustine says (De Vera
Relig. 4): "Maybe, the philosophers were debarred from the faith by their sinful
curiosity in seeking knowledge from the demons."
Thirdly, when a man desires
to know the truth about creatures, without referring his knowledge to its due
end, namely, the knowledge of God. Hence Augustine says (De Vera
Relig. 29) that "in studying creatures, we must not be moved by empty and
perishable curiosity; but we should ever mount towards immortal and abiding
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."

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