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Penultimate Curiosity in the Pre-Modern World

Peter N. Jordan
S & CB 30 (2)
October 2018


This is a lightly edited version of a talk given at the 2017 Christians in Science Conference in Oxford. Intended as a response to Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs’ book The Penultimate Curiosity, it argues that in past circumstances where (as Wagner and Briggs put it) ‘science swims in the slipstream of ultimate questions’, at least one additional factor – a positive view of scientific curiosity – must also have been operative. Curiosity has not always been viewed in a positive light, and projects aimed at obtaining knowledge of nature have often been judged to be problematic. Those who promoted new knowledge acquisition projects often felt a need to defend those projects against accusations of misplaced or misdirected curiosity. Given this, strong slipstream effects – particular theological convictions about the relations between ultimate and penultimate things – alone must have been insufficient to encourage penultimate curiosity.

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