Does Curiosity Kill More Than the Cat?

Stanley Fish in the New York Times:

Adam-fruit Last Thursday, the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities James A. Leach gave an address at the University of Virginia with the catchy title, “Is There an Inalienable Right to Curiosity?”

Taking his cue from Thomas Jefferson’s “trinity of inalienable rights: ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Leach reasoned that even though Jefferson never wrote about curiosity, “a right to be curious would have been a natural reflection of his own personality.” He was, after all, the “living embodiment of an inquisitive mind” and was reputed to have known “all the science that was known at the time.” Surely he would have prized curiosity, especially since it is the quality “oppressive states fear.” Given that “the cornerstone of democracy is access to knowledge,” it is not too much to say, Leach concluded, that “the curious pursuing their curiosity may be mankind’s greatest if not only hope.”

This sounds right, even patriotic, but there is another tradition in which, far from being the guarantor of a better future, curiosity is a vice and even a sin. Indeed, it has often been considered the original sin.

When God told Adam he could eat of all the fruits of the Garden of Eden, but not of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he placed what has been called a “provoking object” in Adam’s eyes.

More here.