Motives for knowledge

October 8, 2013

There are those who wish to know, for the purpose of knowing a great deal, and this is curiosity; some that they may know, and this is vanity; some that they may sell their knowledge, and this is base gain; some that they may be edified, and this is prudence; some that they may edify, and this is charity.

— St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

8 Responses to “Motives for knowledge”

  1. Matthew Says:

    So, which category do you fall into? 🙂

  2. cburrell Says:

    I’ve been pondering that question myself. A certain amount of curiosity, a fair measure of vanity, a pinch of prudence, and a smidgen of charity, I dare say. No motives of base gain — at least, no such motives that are working out for me.

  3. Matthew Says:

    No motives of base gain. Really? You’re not exactly a day labourer by profession. I guess the it depends on whether you consider your salary, as a knowledge worker, as the just recompense for your mental labour, or as the sale of your knowledge.

  4. cburrell Says:

    I think what Bernard must have had in mind was a kind of mercenary attitude where the objective is gain and the means, perhaps incidentally, are chosen to be sale of knowledge. On that count, at least, my conscience is clear.

    On the other hand, it was relatively easy for a scholar like Bernard to disparage ‘base gain’ when he was sitting on a huge endowment and his needs were looked after. Some of us need to work to stay afloat, even if doing so involves knowing things!

  5. Matthew Says:

    Well said. I think in modern terms, we would say that, philosophically, he had first world problems.

  6. Christina Says:

    Bernard is one of my favorite saints of all time, but it is sometimes important not to take him out of his context. Not sure where this quote comes from and where it fits into the overall history…but may have been part of his political battles with the growth of the independent schools of philosophy like Abelard’s which were some what commercializing the knowledge economy in a way that was different from the pre-existing monastic model. Bernard was an intellectual giant, a revolutionary, a reformer and very powerful politically – a holy man for sure, but he can at times seem to be a hypocrite with a political agenda. He had friends and enemies and there was a real push to have his case for canonization moved along quickly after his death while he still had people in Rome who looked favorably upon him.

    Also important to remember is that in his time knowledge was oriented toward knowing God as its highest aim. So to sell that knowledge for base gain is perhaps not quite the same as pursuing intellectual work for personal/family sustenance. Rest assured that even Aquinas’ pursuit of knowledge and the bread on his table had a causal connection that could hardly be called base gain.

  7. kathyB Says:

    curiosity, mostly, for me. i do enjoy sharing my knowledge with my children, but my motive there is mostly to make them as nerdy as myself

  8. cburrell Says:

    A daunting challenge!

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