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A minor


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

From Abbe Ernest Dimnet's The Art of Thinking (1928):

"What is it that characterises the thinker? First of all, and obviously, vision: the word underlies every line of the descriptions above. The thinker is preeminently a man who sees where others do not. The novelty of what he says, its character as a sort of revelation, the charm that attaches to it, all come from the fact that he sees. He seems to be head and shoulders above the crowd, or to be walking on the ridge-way while others trudge at the bottom. Independence is the word which describes the moral aspect of this capacity for vision. Nothing is more striking than the absence of intellectual independence in most human beings: they conform in opinion, as they do in manners, and are perfectly content with repeating formulas. While they do so, the thinker calmly looks around, giving full play to his mental freedom. He may agree with the consensus known as public opinion, but it will not be because it is universal opinion.


"People who think for themselves often appear haughty and self-satisfied, because they can hardly be dissatisfied with themselves, or irreverent, because they knock down idols and cannot but enjoy the sport. Men of the intellectual type of Mr Bernard Shaw would evidently be sorry if all silly people suddenly became as wise as themselves. Hating folly and playing with it rather cruelly is a healthy exercise of the faculties: the Bible abounds with instances. Thinkers are also apt to appear dictatorial, to compel people to follow in their wake. The reason is because seeing the truth - whose other name is salvation - and realising that other people will not see it, they treat them as grown-ups must treat children.


"But, in their innermost nature, thinkers are preeminently teachers, and it is to the credit of most of them that they devote their lives to preaching the truth they see. Some of them do so in admirable speeches or books, others in the picturesque language of the artist, but, whatever the vehicle, the devotion to truth remains visible. Some literary men appear original because of the bizarre character of their expression; but the least effort to boil down their most arresting page to its salt of pure thought will show that they have little to say: not being able to pose as teachers, they must be content with imitating the acrobat who makes a speech standing on his head while gesticulating with his legs. Such men will find imitators but no followers, whereas the thinker, whether he wishes it or not, is a leader."

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