Convictions & Comforts

Dilettantes vs. Professionals

dil·et·tante
[dil-i-tahnt]
-noun
1. A dabbler in an art or a field of knowledge.
2.A lover of the fine arts; a connoisseur.
adj. Superficial; amateurish.

pro·fes·sion·al
[pruh-fesh-uh-nl]
–adjective
1.following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.
2.of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.
3.appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.
4.engaged in one of the learned professions: A lawyer is a professional person.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book on “The History of Archeology” and these passages in pages 51-52 really struck me.

The book quotes Arthur Schopenhauer who said:

‘Dilettates, dilettantes!–is what those who persue a science or and art for love and the delight they take in it, per il loro diletto, are disdainfully called by those who pursue it only for gain, because they delight only in the money that is to be made by it. Their disdain is based upon their vile conviction that no one with devote himself seriously to anything if he is not driven to it by necessity, hunger, or greed. The general public has the same outlook and the same opinion: hence its wholehearted respect for the ‘professionals’ and its distrust of dilettantes. But the truth is that to the dilettante the subject is an end in itself, while to the professional it is only the means to an end. But only the man who cares about something in itself, who loves it and does it con amore, will do it in all seriousness. The highest achievement has always been that of such men, and not of the hacks who serve for pay.’

“…The professional’s mistrust of the successful outsider is the mediocrity’s mistrust of the genius. The man of ordered life looks down his nose at the rover of untrodden, uninsured pathways who, in the words of Martin Luther, ‘has banked on nothing in this world.’ And the mediocrities are in the majority and, usually, on the seats of power.

No matter how far back we go in the history of science, it seems that an extraordinary number of great discoveries were made by dilettantes, amateurs, outsiders–the self-taught who were driven by an obsessive idea, unequipped with the brakes of professional training and the blinkers worn by the specialists, so that they were able to leap over the hurdles set up by academic tradition.

Otto von Guericke, the greatest German physicist of the seventeenth century, was a jurist by profession. Denis Papin, eighteenth-century pioneer in the development of the steam engine, was a medical man. Benjamin Franklin, son of a soap-maker, without even a secondary education, not to mention university training, became not only a great statesman but a scientist of note. Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of electricity, was another medical man who owed his discovery, as Willhelm Ostwald shows in his history of electrochemistry, precisely to the deficiencies of his knowledge in the field in which he made it. Joseph von Fraunhofer, the author of distinguished works on the spectrum, could not read or write before he was fourteen years of age. Michael Faraday was the son of a smith, a bookbinder’s apprentice, and almost completely self-educated. Julius Robert Mayer, who discovered the law of the conservation of energy, was a physician, not a physicist. Another physician, Hermann L. F. von Helmholtz, published his first work on the same subject at the age of twenty-six. Georges, Comte de Buffon, a mathematician and physicist, published his most significant work in the field of geology. The man who built the first electric telegraph was a professor of anatomy, Thomas Sommering. Samuel Morse was a painter, as was Loius Daguerre; yet the first created the alphabet for the telegraph, the second invented photography. The fanatics who created the dirigible, Ferdinand Count Zeppelen, Gross, and Parseval, were military officers without a trace of technical training. The list is endless. If these men and their work were excised from the development of the sciences, the entire structure would collapse. Yet they all, in their time, had to endure the scorn of derision of the experts.”

Now this is a book that focuses on archeology, but I believe the verse runs true for any venture, be it teaching, writing, film-making, or baking a pie.

I’m a homeschool graduate, read college books in my spare time without gaining credit, and write for the pure love of it. I’m a dilettante, and proud to be one.

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