This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on leading the life of the mind outside the academy. In Part 1, I examined 3 models for living well. In Part 2, I discussed what we need to do in order to change our conception of leading a life of the mind. In Part 3, I tried to give a fairly broad picture of how we’ll need to re-conceive of ourselves in this the new economy. In Part 4 (today), I list the virtues (e.g., resourcefulness, modesty, self-mockery) necessary for leading such a life.
Update: This 4-part series will appear, in revised form, in Inside Higher Ed.
2 Snapshots and 1 Silhouette
1. Walter Lippmann (1889-1974): public intellectual who came of age before WWII; social critic, journalist, philosopher; co-founder, with Herbert Croly and Walter Weyl, of The New Republic; independent thinker who was also, I imagine, independently wealthy.
2. Tony Judt (1948-2010): public intellectual who was very much the product of the post-WWII welfare state consensus; university man who taught at Cambridge, Berkeley, and finally NYU; man of letters who wrote beautifully for The New York Review of Books; last of his kind, perhaps.
3. Spinozist and Neoplatonist (1970s-?): philosopher leading a life of the mind outside the academy. How?
Summary of the Argument from Parts 1-3
1. In the coming years, the university will no longer be the chief patron for arts and letters.
2. The life of the University Professor is not all that desirable.
3. The life of the mind outside of the academy is possible. Such a life must meet 4 demanding criteria: (i) it must be financially stable; (ii) it must be morally virtuous; (iii) it must be meaningful; (iv) it must create a sense of wholeness.
4. To lead a life of the mind outside of the academy, it will be necessary to shift from a vocational/career conception to a kind of person conception.
5. The Life of the Minder’s activities will be shot through with mixed motives, mixed goods, and subsidizers. And that’s OK.
6. To stay the course, the Life of the Minder will need to embrace a set of virtues: personal virtues, social virtues, virtues of strength, and virtues of prudence.
The Virtues of the Life of the Minder in the New Economy
1. The Social Virtues: Agreeableness, temperamental attractiveness, the capacity to listen well, and empathy. Read Jane Austen’s novels. Pay close attention to manners, etiquette, and social mores.
2. Personal Virtues: Modesty, humility, and fallibility (antidotes to hubris, bullshit self-esteem, Pollyanna-ism, and self-deception). Read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Also read Montaigne. He will be your guide in the art of the “perhaps,” in the hard-won honesty of the “This is what I think, but for all I know I could be wrong.”
3. Virtues of Strength: Resilience, allostasis, and, not the least, self-mockery. (Come on: Look at those ridiculous pics of me on the About and Contact pages. The first: “Hey, you know, I’m quite approachable.” The second: “Approachable, yes, but also appropriately serious.” Like me but respect me: Ridiculous.)
4. Virtues of Prudence: resourcefulness, agile imagination, and, on occasion, yes, cunning.
If you’ve enjoyed this series on the life of the mind outside the academy and would like to order transcripts of the show, please send… Kidding. Please, um, stay tuned for more hair-raising episodes on the Life of the Mind.