All Men Desire To Know

so says Aristotle. At the beginning of the Metaphysics, Aristotle makes this statement. It’s a universal claim about human nature. I usually perk up at such claims, and my immediate reaction is “Is this true? Do all men desire to know?”

Note: in this context, ‘men’ means men and women, just like “man-eating tiger” means a tiger that eats both men and women. It’s how Ross translates the Greek.

Think of the people you know. Do they desire knowledge? How is it evident? It’s true that if you go up to someone and say “I have a secret,” they will want to know it. It’s true that we generally want to find things out. Aristotle uses our delight in vision as evidence for his universal claim. When you enter a room, you look around you. If other people look up, you look up.

But real knowledge is to know the causes of things. You know not merely that the sun comes up in the east, but why it comes up in the east. You know not merely that penicillin is good to cure a bacterial infection, but why it is the case. Knowing the causes is what wise people really have accomplished, according to Aristotle. This takes observation, study, and work. It’s hard! Mostly what we do is kill time.

Augustine categorizes curiosity as a vice. It’s the false version of the virtue of seeking to know. The merely curious are seeking novelty. They want to fill their eyes and ears with newness. It’s less knowledge-seeking and more itch-scratching. Think about all the time you spend on your phone, scrolling through social media. You aren’t usually trying to learn anything.

Aristotle makes the point in the beginning of the Metaphysics that it takes leisure to advance in wisdom. It took the Egyptians having double harvests from the Nile floods to be able to make advances in math and geometry. They needed free time or leisure. But all leisure isn’t the same. Sitting on the couch binging on a TV show isn’t leisure. It’s a step above being asleep. It might be a step below.

We all desire to know, but we don’t all do a great job of it. Try harder!

3 thoughts on “All Men Desire To Know”

  1. Observing many children from toddlerhood, it’s clear that most everyone desires to know… in their beginning. Later lost for a variety of reasons: frustration in school, anxiety about being different, focus on competing with others rather than knowing, and it’s darn hard to think abstractly and find the causes! I’m sure there are other reasons too.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts.

    What is this apathy that sets in as we move out of childhood?

    The only time I’ve seen apathy in my young kids is when they feel frustrated. They bump against something and get stuck. Instead of pushing through, they throw up their hands declaring “I don’t care about this. This is dumb.” I think it’s a defense against struggle.

    People choose a comfortable apathy over the struggle of learning.

    Why do we scroll instagram? I like what you said. It scratches the itch to ‘look around’ but keeps us comfortable.

  3. Maybe he means all sorts of men?

    I can think of a few times where I projected my own desire to know onto someone else only to be met with what appeared to be their first time even considering that there was knowing to be done.

    That’s kind of how I take CS Lewis’ comment that all men thing about such things, but sometime it doesn’t seem so because not all men can articulate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *