June 30th, 2012

the last of the curiosi

Image: Leif Parsons.

Justin Smith speaks of the loss of a bygone approach to science — a philosophical, curiosity-bound sort — leaving philosophy out in the cold as a separate and constrained entity in contemporary society.

Now surely it is a good thing that today there are, say, helminthologists, who can devote all their time to the study of worms without having to worry about how these creatures fit into the cosmic order, or into God’s design, as you wish. But if helminthology has cleared away the cosmological dross that weighed it down back when it was part of natural philosophy, philosophy meanwhile may have lost something that once helped to fuel it: a curiosity about the world in all its detail, a desire to know everything encyclopedically, rather than to bound its pure activity off from the impure world of worms and so on, a world philosophy might approach through that succinct preposition, of — as in “philosophy of physics,” “philosophy of law” — which permits philosophy to stand apart, and implicitly above, the mundane objects of its attention.

Read The Flight of Curiosity (2011) at NYTimes Opinionator.


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