Before Truth: Curiosity, Negative Capability, Humility

Will Wilkinson in his Substack newsletter, Model Citizen:

Curiosity is very closely related to one of my most highly prized traits, what Keats called “negative capability”… “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” There’s whiff of Romantic mysticism about this, for sure, but I see it primarily as openness to complexity, comfort with ambiguity, patience with not knowing. (If you’ve never read it, “Not-Knowing” by Donald Barthelme is one of my all-time favorite essays.)

Now, I really care about truth. Which is why I’m so consistently antagonized these days by the overconfident incuriosity of many folks who pride themselves on their supposed rationality and proclaim themselves defenders of “Enlightenment values.” So little negative capability! So much needless anxiety about categorization. So much attachment to simplifying pet theories their subcultures have coded as “smart.” So much drive to definitively settle tough questions. So much “irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

These are all ideological impulses. Giving in to them is a terrible way to get at the truth. That’s why I’ve become suspicious of people who get strenuously ideological about truth.

More here.