Letter to an Aspiring Intellectual
by Paul J. Griffiths
I highly suggest consuming the full piece here (23 min. read time)
“What you want is time and space to think, the skills and knowledge to think well, and interlocutors to think with. If the university provides you with these, well and good; if it doesn’t, or doesn’t look as though it will, leave it alone.” — Paul J. Griffiths
Here’s what Griffiths argues for what aspiring intellectuals needs:
Ambition: Each of these thinkers wants it all, intellectually speaking. In their respective spheres they intend to outthink, out-narrate, out-argue, and generally outdo their predecessors and contemporaries.
Obsessive energy/focus: These are all thinkers whose work extends over the course of their lives (some long, some short), and to whose lives, as far as we can tell, the intellectual work was central. They return to their themes, their questions, like dogs worrying over bones
Human world: we and our artifacts and habits and practices and possibilities, that interest them. They think about the nonhuman world, for the most part, only as it has connections with and effects upon us.
“Perhaps you’ll be a dilettante: You’ll love what you think about and you’ll think hard about it, but you’ll be easily bored and won’t think about anything for long…Clever people—quick studies—are often like this. They have properly intellectual gifts, but they lack the patience for attention’s long, slow gaze…” — Paul J. Griffiths
“Don’t follow your loves but, rather, what provokes thought in you. The two may be the same, but they certainly don’t have to be.” — Paul J. Griffiths
“Whatever it is you’re thinking about will demand of you that you think about it a lot and for a long time, and you won’t be able to do that if you’re distracted from moment to moment, or if you allow long gaps between one session of work and the next.” — Paul J. Griffiths
“Once you know what you want to think about, you need to learn whatever skills are necessary for good thinking about it, and whatever body of knowledge is requisite for such thinking.” — Paul J. Griffiths
“The most essential skill is surprisingly hard to come by. That skill is attention. Intellectuals always think about something, and that means they need to know how to attend to what they’re thinking about. Attention can be thought of as a long, slow, surprised gaze at whatever it is.” — Paul J. Griffiths
My two cents: I for one, do not consider myself an intellectual or an aspiring intellectual. Maybe, though? As discussed in the piece, Griffith talks about what a dilettante is and I think that’s what I am. I didn’t know what a dilettante was prior to reading this piece, but I guess it’s not a compliment: “a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.” It’s sad, but also true. I have a ton of interest in a bunch of things, but my depth of knowledge doesn’t go that deep. I aspire to go deeper as time goes on, though.
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