Careful curiosity

curiosity as an epistemic and ethical virtue

My dissertation explores curiosity’s ethical potential for fostering education, connection, and care. In philosophical discourse, curiosity has historically been positioned within a framework of virtue and vice. In medieval contexts, curiosity was a vice that pulled us towards worldly knowledge and distracted us from our religious duties. In the early modern era, curiosity was a crucial virtue for scientific thought, enabling us to reach new theoretical insights. In today’s philosophical landscape, curiosity has come up in the context of identifying a range of epistemic virtues—intellectual processes that lead to reliable knowledge. In each of these cases, curiosity’s status as virtue or vice has been established in regards to its function of knowledge acquisition, neglecting to consider other ways that it contributes to ethical life.

Although I defend the view that curiosity helps lead to knowledge, I expand the discussion to include: 1) curiosity’s ties to broader ethical concerns, such as combatting prejudice and respecting others, and 2) curiosity’s relation not only to “having” knowledge but also to learning as a practice that is itself ethically significant. By revealing interconnection and facilitating a habit of inquiry that is responsive, cooperative, and invested, curiosity not only helps us learn, but also predisposes us to care about what we learn. My dissertation will engage in historical, phenomenological, and epistemological analysis, drawing on close readings of philosophical texts supplemented by educational and psychological theory. My goal is to expand the arena in which we see curiosity as ethically relevant, as well as identify some specific ways curiosity functions as a virtue so that we may benefit from its cultivation.