Immanuel Kant

Confession of an Incurable Evidentialist, Part 4: Is Curiosity a Sin? Is Interpretation a Hindrance to Truth?

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Thomas Edison had over 1100 patents to his name. His inventions included the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the moving-picture camera, the electric locomotive and the alkaline battery. “My philosophy of life,” said Edison, “is work—bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of man.” Among other things, Edison possessed an uncommonly strong work ethic, an unwavering practical bent, an almost boundless optimism, and an unusually high amount of curiosity.

A driving force

Curiosity is a driving force in the human psyche. Martin Heidegger, in one of his numerous sallies into the labyrinth of lost ideas to find Dasein (existence), attempted to explain curiosity for us. First, he says in a rather backward fashion, curiosity is “letting the world be encountered by us in perception.” Then, he proceeds to relate that curiosity “seeks restlessness and the excitement of continual novelty and changing encounters.” Through curiosity, existence is constantly uprooting itself. Heidegger then concludes his dismal discourse by saying that curiosity always ends in ambiguity (Being and Time, 1.5).

We may all thank our lucky Daseins that Thomas Edison never read Heidegger. We may also be certain that Heidegger wasn’t thinking about children at all as he discussed curiosity. If he had spent much time studying little children (or remembered his studies), he would have comprehended that curiosity is an inborn tool for learning. It provides the drive to discover. An infant, regardless of its environment, will put this tool right to work early in life: looking at things, grasping at objects, playing with them, talking to them and putting them in his mouth. Aristotle said, “All men by nature desire to know.” (Metaphysics, I.1) We may well add, the desire is awakened shortly after birth.

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Confession of an Incurable Evidentialist, Part 3

What is beauty?

The beginning of the Rock Music culture in the US is a little difficult to pinpoint, but by the time of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” its presence was evident to almost everyone. With the advent of Rock the youth of America possessed their own music. Their parents dismissed it as dissonant, gyrating wildness and told their children: “That isn’t music!” But the youth—particularly the Baby Boomer Generation—held on to it tenaciously. Rock/Pop has now become the world’s music to the extent that it is heard everywhere and all the time. Now teenagers listening to 100-year old hymns think, “That isn’t music!”

Many post-modern thinkers will probably tell you that the quality of music is a matter of taste, determined by culture and experience. This is a break with how people have thought, literally for millennia. It uses an argument that can easily be turned against itself (you can also say that the proposition “quality of music is merely taste, determined by culture and experience,” is simply a product of culture and experience, and perhaps not valid at all). When we talk about music or art, we also talk about the concept of beauty. I am not telling you a fairy tale when I say that there was a time when people agreed on what is good music, even if they disagreed on style preference. When and how did the change to today’s view of beauty come about? I think the change began slowly with the ideas of Immanuel Kant (and you thought it all started with Elvis, right?).

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