W.H. Auden on the Morality of Knowing

In our culture, we have all accepted the notion that the right to know is absolute and unlimited. The gossip column is one side of the medal; the cobalt bomb is the other. We are quite prepared to admit that, while food and sex are good in themselves, an uncontrolled pursuit of either is not, but it is difficult for us to believe that intellectual curiosity is a desire like any other, and to recognize that correct knowledge and truth are not identical. To apply a categorical imperative to knowing, so that, instead of asking, “What can I know?” we ask, “What, at this moment, am I meant to know?–to entertain the possibility that the only knowledge which can be true for us is the knowledge we can live up to–that seems to all of us crazy and almost immoral.

W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essay, 272.

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