Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 5, "Curiosity is Enrolled in the Catalog of the Vices"

Augustine's turning away from Manichaean Gnosticism depends on philosophical critique of Gnosticism's astronomical doctrines, but Augustine does not want to validate philosophy per se. Sees its predictive successes (e.g., in astronomy) as its core danger, because it leads man to think that this knowledge is derived from himself rather than conditioned on man's origin in God. Curiositas as pursuit of knowledge which does not reflect on the conditions of its own possibility.

Augustinean distinction of use and enjoyment of the world: use of the world and objects in it for the end of salvation is permissible, but enjoyment is dangerous. Enjoyment should be directed toward God alone. Curiositas takes man's cognitive abilities themselves as an object of enjoyment. This is facilitated by a world in which the objects of knowledge are in fact at least in part remote or hidden from man, so that the process of knowing them comes with a greater feeling of accomplishment. In the extreme case, even God is viewed as an object of knowledge, and is thus used for enjoyment of man's cognitive capabilities.

For Augustine, remote or obscure things which cannot be of use and cannot increase man's self-knowledge are not a proper object of attention. Man's cognitive drive, which leads to interest in such things, is part of his fallen nature.

Memoria is antithesis of curiositas for Augustine. Follows pattern of Gnosticism here: curiositas is forgetting oneself and losing oneself in the world, memoria is true knowing in the sense of recollecting one's origin.

Curiositas as a 'waste of time' -- an implicit denial of man's finitude, as if an individual had time to come to know everything.

Miracles create a predicament for Augustine. Ancient presupposition is for an orderly cosmos; miracles violate this. On one hand, Augustine contests this by simply expanding concept of cosmos -- there is order to nature that we do not see enough to be familiar with; if we grasped this order then miracles would be understood correctly as natural events. But in implying a deeper order, Augustine risks inciting curiositas in pursuit of it and also suggesting that God can be limited by it. So Augustine goes beyond this, claims that miracles are consistent with God's ability to take arbitrary and unpredictable action. Decisive for development of medieval theology and thus modern thought.

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