QUESTION 167: OF CURIOSITY
We must next consider curiosity, under which head there are two points
(1) Whether the vice of curiosity can regard intellective knowledge?
(2) Whether it is about sensitive knowledge?
Article 1: Whether curiosity can be about intellective knowledge?
Objection 1: It would seem that curiosity cannot be about intellective
knowledge. Because, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 6), there
can be no mean and extremes in things which are essentially good. Now
intellective knowledge is essentially good: because man's perfection
would seem to consist in his intellect being reduced from potentiality to
act, and this is done by the knowledge of truth. For Dionysius says (Div.
Nom. iv) that "the good of the human soul is to be in accordance with
reason," whose perfection consists in knowing the truth. Therefore the
vice of curiosity cannot be about intellective knowledge.
Objection 2: Further, that which makes man like to God, and which he receives
from God, cannot be an evil. Now all abundance of knowledge is from God,
according to Ecclus. 1:1, "All wisdom is from the Lord God," and Wis.
7:17, "He hath given me the true knowledge of things that are, to know
the disposition of the whole world, and the virtues of the elements,"
etc. Again, by knowing the truth man is likened to God, since "all things
are naked and open to His eyes" (Heb. 4:13), and "the Lord is a God of
all knowledge" (1 Kgs. 2:3). Therefore however abundant knowledge of
truth may be, it is not evil but good. Now the desire of good is not
sinful. Therefore the vice of curiosity cannot be about the intellective
knowledge of truth.
Objection 3: Further, if the vice of curiosity can be about any kind of
intellective knowledge, it would be chiefly about the philosophical
sciences. But, seemingly, there is no sin in being intent on them: for
Jerome says (Super Daniel 1:8): "Those who refused to partake of the
king's meat and wine, lest they should be defiled, if they had considered
the wisdom and teaching of the Babylonians to be sinful, would never have
consented to learn that which was unlawful": and Augustine says (De
Doctr. Christ. ii, 40) that "if the philosophers made any true
statements, we must claim them for our own use, as from unjust
possessors." Therefore curiosity about intellective knowledge cannot be
On the contrary, Jerome [*Comment. in Ep. ad Ephes. iv, 17] says: "Is it
not evident that a man who day and night wrestles with the dialectic art,
the student of natural science whose gaze pierces the heavens, walks in
vanity of understanding and darkness of mind?" Now vanity of
understanding and darkness of mind are sinful. Therefore curiosity about
intellective sciences may be sinful.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article , ad 2) studiousness is
directly, not about knowledge itself, but about the desire and study in
the pursuit of knowledge. Now we must judge differently of the knowledge
itself of truth, and of the desire and study in the pursuit of the
knowledge of truth. For the knowledge of truth, strictly speaking, is
good, but it may be evil accidentally, by reason of some result, either
because one takes pride in knowing the truth, according to 1 Cor. 8:1,
"Knowledge puffeth up," or because one uses the knowledge of truth in
order to sin.
On the other hand, the desire or study in pursuing the knowledge of
truth may be right or wrong. First, when one tends by his study to the
knowledge of truth as having evil accidentally annexed to it, for
instance those who study to know the truth that they may take pride in
their knowledge. Hence Augustine says (De Morib. Eccl. 21): "Some there
are who forsaking virtue, and ignorant of what God is, and of the majesty
of that nature which ever remains the same, imagine they are doing
something great, if with surpassing curiosity and keenness they explore
the whole mass of this body which we call the world. So great a pride is
thus begotten, that one would think they dwelt in the very heavens about
which they argue." In like manner, those who study to learn something in
order to sin are engaged in a sinful study, according to the saying of
Jer. 9:5, "They have taught their tongue to speak lies, they have labored
to commit iniquity."
Secondly, there may be sin by reason of the appetite or study directed
to the learning of truth being itself inordinate; and this in four ways.
First, when a man is withdrawn by a less profitable study from a study
that is an obligation incumbent on him; hence Jerome says [*Epist. xxi ad
Damas]: "We see priests forsaking the gospels and the prophets, reading
stage-plays, and singing the love songs of pastoral idylls." Secondly,
when a man studies to learn of one, by whom it is unlawful to be taught,
as in the case of those who seek to know the future through the demons.
This is superstitious curiosity, of which Augustine says (De Vera Relig.
4): "Maybe, the philosophers were debarred from the faith by their sinful
curiosity in seeking knowledge from the demons."
Thirdly, when a man desires to know the truth about creatures, without
referring his knowledge to its due end, namely, the knowledge of God.
Hence Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 29) that "in studying creatures, we
must not be moved by empty and perishable curiosity; but we should ever
mount towards immortal and abiding things."
Fourthly, when a man studies to know the truth above the capacity of his
own intelligence, since by so doing men easily fall into error: wherefore
it is written (Ecclus. 3:22): "Seek not the things that are too high for
thee, and search not into things above thy ability . . . and in many of
His works be not curious," and further on (Ecclus. 3:26), "For . . . the
suspicion of them hath deceived many, and hath detained their minds in
Reply to Objection 1: Man's good consists in the knowledge of truth; yet man's
sovereign good consists, not in the knowledge of any truth, but in the
perfect knowledge of the sovereign truth, as the Philosopher states
(Ethic. x, 7,8). Hence there may be sin in the knowledge of certain
truths, in so far as the desire of such knowledge is not directed in due
manner to the knowledge of the sovereign truth, wherein supreme happiness
Reply to Objection 2: Although this argument shows that the knowledge of truth is
good in itself, this does not prevent a man from misusing the knowledge
of truth for an evil purpose, or from desiring the knowledge of truth
inordinately, since even the desire for good should be regulated in due
Reply to Objection 3: The study of philosophy is in itself lawful and
commendable, on account of the truth which the philosophers acquired
through God revealing it to them, as stated in Rm. 1:19. Since, however,
certain philosophers misuse the truth in order to assail the faith, the
Apostle says (Col. 2:8): "Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and
vain deceit, according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to
Christ": and Dionysius says (Ep. vii ad Polycarp.) of certain
philosophers that "they make an unholy use of divine things against that
which is divine, and by divine wisdom strive to destroy the worship of
Article 2: Whether the vice of curiosity is about sensitive knowledge?
Objection 1: It would seem that the vice of curiosity is not about sensitive
knowledge. For just as some things are known by the sense of sight, so
too are some things known by the senses of touch and taste. Now the vice
concerned about objects of touch and taste is not curiosity but lust or
gluttony. Therefore seemingly neither is the vice of curiosity about
things known by the sight.
Objection 2: Further, curiosity would seem to refer to watching games; wherefore Augustine says (Confess. vi, 8) that when "a fall occurred in the fight, a mighty cry of the whole people struck him strongly, and overcome by curiosity Alypius opened his eyes." But it does not seem to be sinful to watch games, because it gives pleasure on account of the representation, wherein man takes a natural delight, as the Philosopher states (Poet. vi). Therefore the vice of curiosity is not about the knowledge of sensible objects.
Objection 3: Further, it would seem to pertain to curiosity to inquire into
our neighbor's actions, as Bede observes [*Comment. in 1 Jn. 2:16]. Now,
seemingly, it is not a sin to inquire into the actions of others, because
according to Ecclus. 17:12, God "gave to every one of them commandment
concerning his neighbor." Therefore the vice of curiosity does not regard
the knowledge of such like particular sensible objects.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 38) that "concupiscence
of the eyes makes men curious." Now according to Bede (Comment. in 1 Jn.
2:16) "concupiscence of the eyes refers not only to the learning of magic
arts, but also to sight-seeing, and to the discovery and dispraise of our
neighbor's faults," and all these are particular objects of sense.
Therefore since concupiscence of the eves is a sin, even as concupiscence
of the flesh and pride of life, which are members of the same division (1
Jn. 2:16), it seems that the vice of curiosity is about the knowledge of
I answer that, The knowledge of sensible things is directed to two
things. For in the first place, both in man and in other animals, it is
directed to the upkeep of the body, because by knowledge of this kind,
man and other animals avoid what is harmful to them, and seek those
things that are necessary for the body's sustenance. In the second place,
it is directed in a manner special to man, to intellective knowledge,
whether speculative or practical. Accordingly to employ study for the
purpose of knowing sensible things may be sinful in two ways. First, when
the sensitive knowledge is not directed to something useful, but turns
man away from some useful consideration. Hence Augustine says (Confess.
x, 35), "I go no more to see a dog coursing a hare in the circus; but in
the open country, if I happen to be passing, that coursing haply will
distract me from some weighty thought, and draw me after it . . . and
unless Thou, having made me see my weakness, didst speedily admonish me,
I become foolishly dull." Secondly, when the knowledge of sensible things
is directed to something harmful, as looking on a woman is directed to
lust: even so the busy inquiry into other people's actions is directed to
detraction. on the other hand, if one be ordinately intent on the
knowledge of sensible things by reason of the necessity of sustaining
nature, or for the sake of the study of intelligible truth, this
studiousness about the knowledge of sensible things is virtuous.
Reply to Objection 1: Lust and gluttony are about pleasures arising from the use
of objects of touch, whereas curiosity is about pleasures arising from
the knowledge acquired through all the senses. According to Augustine
(Confess. x, 35) "it is called concupiscence of the eyes" because "the
sight is the sense chiefly used for obtaining knowledge, so that all
sensible things are said to be seen," and as he says further on: "By this
it may more evidently be discerned wherein pleasure and wherein curiosity
is the object of the senses; for pleasure seeketh objects beautiful,
melodious, fragrant, savory, soft; but curiosity, for trial's sake,
seeketh even the contraries of these, not for the sake of suffering
annoyance, but out of the lust of experiment and knowledge."
Reply to Objection 2: Sight-seeing becomes sinful, when it renders a man prone to
the vices of lust and cruelty on account of things he sees represented.
Hence Chrysostom says [*Hom. vi in Matth.] that such sights make men
adulterers and shameless.
Reply to Objection 3: One may watch other people's actions or inquire into them,
with a good intent, either for one's own good---that is in order to be
encouraged to better deeds by the deeds of our neighbor---or for our
neighbor's good---that is in order to correct him, if he do anything
wrong, according to the rule of charity and the duty of one's position.
This is praiseworthy, according to Heb. 10:24, "Consider one another to
provoke unto charity and to good works." But to observe our neighbor's
faults with the intention of looking down upon them, or of detracting
them, or even with no further purpose than that of disturbing them, is
sinful: hence it is written (Prov. 24:15), "Lie not in wait, nor seek
after wickedness in the house of the just, nor spoil his rest."