The Flight of Curiosity

Stone_curiosity-tmagArticle-v3 Justin E. H. Smith in The NYT's Opinionator:

Must one be endowed with curiosity in order to become a philosopher?

Today, in the academic realm, at least, the answer is surely and regrettably “no.” When a newly minted philosopher goes on the job market, her primary task is to show her prospective colleagues how perfectly focused she has been in graduate school, and to conceal her knowledge of any topic (Shakespeare’s sonnets, classical Chinese astronomy, the history of pigeon breeding) that does not fall within the current boundaries of the discipline.

But how were these boundaries formed in the first place? Did they spring from the very essence of philosophy, a set of core attributes present at inception, forever fixed and eternal? The answer to that latter question, is also “no.” What appears to us today to be a core is only what is left over after a centuries-long process by which the virtue of curiosity — once nearly synonymous with philosophy — migrated into other disciplines, both scientific and humanistic. As this migration was occurring, many curiosity-driven activities — such as insect-collecting and star-gazing, long considered at least tributaries of philosophy — were downgraded to the status of mere hobbies. This loss of curiosity has played an important but little noticed role in the widespread perception that professional philosophy has become out of touch with the interests of the broader society.