Volume 95, Issue 1, Winter 2021
Patrick H. Byrne
Curiosity: Vice or Virtue? Augustine and Lonergan
Two recent studies by Joseph Torchia and Paul Griffiths show the importance of Augustine’s critique of the vice of curiositas to contemporary life and thought. Superficially, it might seem that Augustine condemned curiosity because it “seeks to find out whatever it wishes without restriction of any kind.” Though profoundly influenced by Augustine, Bernard Lonergan praised intellectual curiosity precisely insofar as it is motivated by an unrestricted desire to know, rather than by less noble motives. Drawing upon the researches of Torchia and Griffiths, this article endeavors to show that Augustine does not simply equate curiositas with an unrestricted desire to know, and that the virtue of intellectual curiosity as Lonergan understood it is in fact endorsed by Augustine by means of its relationship to the virtue of studiositas. This more nuanced view of the virtues and vices of intellect can provide guidance for contemporary intellectual pursuits, both how to pursue and not to pursue knowledge.