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“Free inquiry, if restrained within due bounds, and applied to proper subjects, is a most important privilege of the human mind; and if well conducted, is one of the greatest friends to truth” (Théodore-Agrippa D’Aubigné).
PEOPLE WITH HIGH-QUALITY LIVES TEND TO BE THOSE WHO (A) ASK GOOD QUESTIONS, AND THEN (B) WORK HARD TO FIND THE ANSWERS. Inquiry is a conspicuous habit of almost all successful people. There is really no substitute for it. Either we “inquire” or we “expire” without having learned what we needed to know.
Carefulness in our inquiries. It’s not enough to ask questions; we need to ask good questions. Contrary to what the “enquiring” tabloids seem to think, some questions are a waste of time. Just as there is junk food, there is also such a thing as junk knowledge. And not only that, but some things are simply none of our business. So we need to be careful in deciding what the things are that we’d like to inquire about.
Diligence in our inquiries. Assuming that our questions are worth seeking an answer to, we also need to understand that hard work and persistence may be required. Accurate answers to our questions are not always easily found or quickly understood. So if there’s something worth knowing and we say that we want to know it, we need to be willing to pay the price. Inquiries take time and energy.
Charles Sanders Peirce said, “Do not block the way of inquiry.” If we don’t watch out, we may find ourselves doing that, either for ourselves or for others. There is something a little frightening about new knowledge, and we’re often tempted to resist inquiries that may lead in disturbing directions. But truth, even uncomfortable truth, is always preferable to untruth. We must be courageous.
A healthy measure of old-fashioned inquisitiveness can add immense value to our lives. Curiosity may have killed the cat, and, as we’ve suggested, there are things we ought to have the good sense not to inquire into. But even so, we shouldn’t fail to recognize the good that can come from good inquiries. There are vast treasuries of knowledge waiting to open up to us. We need to ask, ask, and ask again!
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.