Intellectual Appetite

Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar

Paul J. Griffiths
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Intellectual Appetite
    Book Description:

    The appetite for knowledge--wanting to know things--is very strong in humans. Some will sacrifice all other goods (sex, power, food, life itself) for it. But this is not a simple appetite, and this book treats some of its complications, deformations, beauties, and intensities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1776-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book is about intellectual appetite. This appetite, Aristotle claimed at the beginning of the Metaphysics, is natural to us, a proper constituent of human nature like (he did not say this) the capacity to torture or to laugh. It is, he seems to have thought, an appetite other creatures lack. They seek food or sex or safety or sensual pleasure, and finding these involves seeking and getting knowledge of a sort—the whereabouts of the food or the mate, for instance. But dogs and cats, and even (probably) dolphins and nonhuman primates, are never primarily interested in knowing where...

    (pp. 19-22)

    Augustine writes here, in the tenth book of his work on the Holy Trinity (10.1.3), that the love which belongs to the studious is prompted always by a love for something already known, not by a love for what is not yet known. He then notes that the curious might be carried away or dragged off by force (all implications to be found in rapiatur, a word that lies behind the English verb “to rape”) solely by love directed at knowing what they do not yet know, and might in that way be distinguished from the studious. But even the...

  5. 3 WORLD
    (pp. 23-28)

    Augustine here (In Epistolam Ioannis 2.12) comments on 1 John 2:16, in which (in the Latin version he knew) the possessive desire of the eyes (concupiscentia oculorum) is said to belong to the mundus, the world, and therefore to be shunned. What, he asks, does this word “world” mean? Isn’t it the ordered beauty of the fabric woven by God, things visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth? Why then should saying that something belongs to it imply that it should be shunned? Wouldn’t calling something “world” or “worldly” rather suggest that it is to be loved and embraced?...

  6. 4 DAMAGE
    (pp. 29-49)

    This elegant and pithy passage, from Augustine’s commentary on John (In Ioannis Evangelium 39.8), occurs as part of an exposition of the various senses in which God is triune, as an element of which Augustine discusses the idea of participation—participation, that is, of the three divine persons in God, and, for the purposes of illustration, participation of all that is good in humans in God’s goodness. The aphorism here (perhaps not original to Augustine) shows what it means for something imperfect to participate in something perfect. The example is the sighted’s participation in light. Those who can see can...

  7. 5 GIFT
    (pp. 50-74)

    This passage is part of Augustine’s extensive hymn of praise to God with which the Confessions opens (I take it from 1.4.4). Using paradox, Augustine tests what can be said about God in the language of exchange and debt, and in so doing shows the limits of that language. Suppose we humans pay back to God more than we owe—suppose, that is, we do more than we need do for God (supererogatur Deo). Then God would be in our debt. But, since everything any of us has is already God’s (quis habet quicquam non tuum?, echoing, perhaps, 1 Corinthians...

    (pp. 75-91)

    Here Augustine, in a late letter (Epistola 140.4.10) to Honoratus on the subject of grace, provides a brief statement of the grammar of participation. The graceful gift of God, he says makes of us what without it we could not be, which is to say filii Dei, God’s children. Without the gift, we were only filii hominum, children of men. God did this by becoming a particeps, a participator in or partaker of, our nature, which is to say of human nature, with the result that we then became participators in, partakers of, his nature, which is to say divine...

    (pp. 92-123)

    Augustine, in this part (8.4) of his commentary on the very long Psalm 118 (119 according to the enumeration of most contemporary Bibles), begins by distinguishing between good dilectio, here translated “love,” and bad: we may have dilectio for what we ought to have it for, in which case it is good; but we may also have dilectio for what we ought not to have it for, in which case it is bad. Even concupiscentia, here translated “yearning,” can be good or bad, depending upon whether it seeks the flesh or the spirit. And so, in a striking formulation, recte...

  10. 8 WONDER
    (pp. 124-138)

    Augustine here, in the tenth book of the Confessions (10.8.15) expresses wonder (admiratio) at himself. No one, he says, has arrived at the true depth of his or her own memory, and he cannot himself grasp totum quod sum, all that he is. But this is paradoxical: how can the mind be such that it cannot grasp part of what it itself is? Wonder and astonishment (stupor) overcome him at this; and then he is puzzled as to why so many wonder at the glories of the sensible creation outside themselves, but do not wonder at their own capacity to...

  11. 9 OWNING
    (pp. 139-162)

    Augustine here (the extract is taken from De libero arbitrio 2.7.19) distinguishes what is proper and private from what is public and held in common. He makes the distinction in terms first of ownership: if something is private, you alone hold it, whereas if something is public it is freely available to all. The second facet of the distinction has to do with knowing: a privately held thing can be known only by its owner, whereas a public thing is known by all. The distinction is, for him, not merely descriptive but also normative: truly public things are not subject...

    (pp. 163-186)

    Augustine here (De doctrina christiana 4.29.62) identifies theft with alienation, with removing something from its proper place to another, and thus making it alien to its rightful owner—and, by implication, to the place in which it now finds itself. Doing this with words would be a strange act, and Augustine here gives a hint of what it would mean by saying that the word of God cannot be alien to or alienated from those who obey it. This suggests that it could be alien to and alienated from those who do not obey it: they would then be its...

  13. 11 SPECTACLE
    (pp. 187-202)

    Augustine here (in a passage extracted from De vera religione, 51.100) discusses the benefits of studying and meditating on Scripture, and in the passage quoted he does it by contrasting those benefits with the detriments of attending to the objects that curiosity constructs for itself. Scriptural study nourishes and satisfies; curiosity, being concerned inanibus phantasmibus, with empty images, brings only hunger, and thirst, and exhaustion, and disquiet. All these things are only picta epula, painted feasts that look as though they might satisfy but in fact cannot be eaten. If, then, the apparent beauty and wonders of spectacles delight us,...

  14. 12 NOVELTY
    (pp. 203-215)

    Here, toward the end of one of his early works, On True Religion (53.102), Augustine discusses appetite for knowledge and how it may go wrong. One of these ways, he says in a passage that comes just before the one quoted, is by mistaking intimacy with changing things for intimacy with unchanging things. That mistake is damaging because it makes the peace that comes with knowing the unchanging impossible. The result will be restlessness, and endless search for novitates, new things, as he says at the beginning of the quoted passage, and this in turn is best understood as a...

  15. 13 LOQUACITY
    (pp. 216-220)

    In this aphorism (§72, according to Le Guern’s enumeration) from the Pensées, Pascal draws the connection between curiosity and the desire to speak. Intellectual appetite, he says, most often has among its concomitants the desire to speak of what one seeks to know; the word “curiosity” labels that kind of desire to know (Pascal leaves open here the possibility that there may be other kinds of intellectual appetite, kinds not indissolubly linked with the need to speak), and the fact that it is accompanied by the desire to speak what one knows, kinds not indissolubly linked with the need to...

  16. 14 GRATITUDE
    (pp. 221-232)

    In this last chapter I offer thanks to those, living and dead, whose words have made possible the words of this book. Memory being what it is, it is likely that some who have helped me are not thanked. For that, in no case deliberate, I apologise. A large majority of the thanks offered are to those whose faces I have never seen, either because they are dead or because our paths have not crossed. In those cases, I can thank them only for their words.

    My principal thanks are due to Augustine, without whose writings this book would not...

  17. INDEX
    (pp. 233-235)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-237)