Sunday, November 01, 2009

Curiosity and the dead cat

In Does curiosity kill more than the cat?, prof Stanley Fish wonders
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.”
Interesting, considering that academic freedom is under huge assault these days.

I have said in private correspondence as follows:
It is good to be curious about the exact cause of Alzheimer syndrome or whether that fellow hanging around in the parking lot has lawful business around here.

It is not good to be curious about whether my neighbour is a closet racist or having an affair with the letter carrier.

I’d say curiosity is an inescapable and necessary human quality that must be steered in an appropriate direction.
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

PS: Re cats: I know a bit. Curiosity does kill cats sometimes. But kidney disease is their biggest problem. Cats are obligate carnivores. So they generally last as long as their kidneys - or so a vet once told me - and in my experience it is certainly true.