On Curiosity

Curiosity killed the cat…

And unfortunately today it kills many … Cat..holics!  

We often speak and read about various harmful consequences of the social media.  Let me add a word on what is the vice instrumental to most of these consequences: the vice of curiosity, which St Thomas (2a2ae, q.166) assigns against the virtue of studiousness, a part of the virtue of modesty, which itself is a part of the great virtue of temperance.

“It belongs to temperance to moderate the movement of the appetite, lest it tend excessively to that which is desired naturally. Now just as in respect of his corporeal nature man naturally desires the pleasures of food and of the flesh, so, in respect of his soul, he naturally desires to know something.  ‘All men have a natural desire for knowledge.’ The moderation of this desire pertains to the virtue of studiousness.”

When we hear ‘temperance’, we often think first of moderation in bodily matters. Let us not forget that there must be temperance, or moderation in matters pertaining to the soul as well. Humility, for instance moderates the movements of the mind towards some excellence. Studiousness, as said above, moderates the desire to know.  To this virtue is opposed the vice of curiosity, which does not control the desire to know.  “The knowledge of truth, strictly speaking, is good, but it may be evil by accident” teaches St Thomas, and he gives a list of how this can happen:

·         by taking pride in knowing the truth, according to 1 Cor. 8:1, ‘Knowledge puffeth up’;

·         if we use the knowledge of truth in order to sin, such as for lust or detraction (e.g. malicious blogs…);

·         if the pursuit of knowledge distracts us from or harms our duty of state (e.g. business, housework, studies, prayers);

·         if there is superstition mixed with it (e.g. fortune tellers);

·         if the knowledge turns us away from our last end, “by empty and perishable curiosity”;

·         if it is something above the capacity of our intelligence.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, well known Russian writer, who spent 11 years in labor camps, dealt with that vice of curiosity, a major problem in our Western world, in his Harvard address in 1978. There is great wisdom in his words:

“ ‘Everyone is entitled to know everything.’ But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it's a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.”

Another part of this virtue of moderation is called eutrapelia, that is the moderation of pleasures in games (cf. 2a2ae, q.160, a.2).  Obviously here too the cyberworld with its games causes incredible damages.

I would dare suggest that just as we need a driver’s license to drive a car safely on public roads, so there should be a ‘cyber-licence’ for those using the internet, issued only to those who have proven excellence in the practice of virtue, especially that of prudence and temperance!