Someday I want to convene a debate about curiosity. The question on the floor will be this: is curiosity normative or descriptive?

To think of curiosity as normative is to believe that curiosity is good and desirable. In this case, to say, “I am a curious person,” does not only mean that I am open to new knowledge, but it implies that my willingness to learn is better than your self-assured certainty.

To think of curiosity as descriptive is to think of curiosity as a neutral, value-free definition. In this case, to say, “I am a curious person,” means that I am open to new knowledge, but I don’t think my eagerness for learning is any better than your insistence on partisan, intolerant precepts.

If my curiosity is normative, then I think that you ought to be curious, too. If my curiosity is descriptive, then I am willing to learn from you, regardless of your insistent, incurious, and obstinate opinions.

Here’s another way to put it: does being open-minded mean that you are humbly interested in listening to the stalwart conclusions of close-minded people? Or does describing yourself as open-minded inherently imply that open-mindedness is the most appropriate way to live?

If curiosity is descriptive, curiosity might be no more than a personality trait or idiosyncratic characteristic that is no better or worse than its opposite.

If curiosity is normative, then perhaps we need to understand curiosity as something more like an ideology or dogma.

I think this would be a good debate because I suspect many of us do not appreciate just how disruptive and unsettling curiosity itself can be to our little, idealist cults of curiosity.

If you are unwilling to question the merit of curiosity, are you in fact curious?

If you are unwilling to listen to close-minded people, are you in fact open-minded?

Is curiosity a bias or a belief?

Perhaps, in the end, we might conclude that descriptive curiosity ought to be normative. But this proposition seems like a rather mind-splintering assault on logic itself, leaving us no further recourse than to be curious about the coherence of our conclusion.

So, what do you say? If you were going to debate the motion, would you say that curiosity is normative or descriptive? Or perhaps a better way to frame the question: do you think everyone should be curious? Either way you answer the question, the implications are fascinating.

3 thoughts on “Curiosity

  1. I see curiosity as a gift. I’m grateful I am curious, that I can listen to non-curious people and learn from them. I recognize though that I am not this way because of anything that I have chosen or done on my own. We also have to recognize, that for an infinite amount of reasons, not everyone has received this gift. To say that one ought to be curious is to not recognize this gift for yourself and imply that your way of being is superior to all else, which in many ways ironically ends in you being less curious.

  2. James, I love your blog / writing! That said: In my experience “Should” is not a very useful word. I think it would just be a better world if everyone were truly curious, seeking to connect with – appropriately- and understand the interests and values of others. Such willingness does not imply agreement. Willingness to truly listen almost always creates some kind of path forward.

  3. Hi James!
    Hope u r well
    Thanks for the blog post re:community. I agree with you re: loving the ‘idea of a community’ vs the ‘community of people’ themselves. I think another way to put it (as we say at is distinguising the difference between ‘wanting something FROM people’ vs ‘wanting something FOR people’….when our intention is to put energy and time towards helping and caring for someone else’s sake…it helps everyone and creates the kind of community that I believe we are all ultimately looking for.

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