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Epistemic Restraint and the Vice of Curiosity

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2012
JournalPhilosophy
Journal number2
Volume87
Number of pages20
Pages239-259
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In recent years there has been wide-ranging discussion of epistemic virtues. Given the value and importance of acquiring knowledge this discussion has tended to focus upon those traits that are relevant to the acquisition of knowledge. This acquisitionist focus ignores or downplays the importance of epistemic restraint: refraining from seeking knowledge. In contrast, in many periods of history, curiosity was viewed as a vice. By drawing upon critiques of curiositas in Middle Platonism and Early Christian philosophy, we gain useful insights into the value and importance of epistemic restraint. The historical discussion paves the way for a clarification of epistemic restraint, one that distinguishes the morally relevant features of epistemic process, content, purpose, and context. Epistemic restraint is identified as an important virtue where our epistemic pursuits pose risks and burdens, where such pursuits have opportunity costs, where they are pursued for vicious purposes. But it is in the social realm where epistemic restraint has most purchase, epistemic restraint is important both because privacy is important and because being trusted are important. Finally, some suggestions are offered as to why epistemic restraint has not received the contemporary attention that it deserves.