The Praxis Fall 2014 class recently completed its study of our entrepreneurship curriculum, my own favorite of the eight modules. We encountered works from a number of entrepreneurs and thinkers, including Seth Godin, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel (whose curriculum contribution Zak has covered in the past). This module’s focus on the grit, ingenuity, and moral courage required to create something truly original and valuable serves as a fitting call to action as we near the end of our Praxis experience.
One of the most personally impactful works in this module came from an author who is not as well-known on the landscape of entrepreneurial thought today. Henry Hazlitt wrote as a journalist for many of the most significant publications of the last century, using his position to write prolifically on ethics, psychology, and economics. In Thinking as a Science, he proposes a new purpose and method for the activity of thought.
Hazlitt argues that, while plenty of people have much on their minds, far too few people truly focus their minds upon thinking. Even fewer set aside time to think in the way that they might set aside time for work, dining, reading, or leisure. Thinking as an activity has been left to whim, to the moments when we are feeling introspective. Hazlitt labels this neglect of thought his own “pet little evil, to which in more passionate moments [he is] apt to attribute all the others.”
A promising start to a good critique. But this book is far from a tirade against the uneducated. In fact, its main criticisms and recommendations are aimed at those who have the intellectual capacity to think but the lack of discipline to exercise it. It is a criticism of education without originality, from the reading of books as ends in themselves to noncommittal writing to the lazy use of analogy. Hazlitt calls the reader to reexamine the widespread preoccupation with absorbing “content” and to acknowledge his own ability to generate and communicate the ideas worth having.
There is power in Hazlitt’s suggestion of concentrated thought, particularly in the midst of what can otherwise become the blur of passing days. We miss the full experience of life as essentially rational beings if we do not allow ourselves to experience thought as purposefully and forcefully as we experience friendship, good food, or satisfying work. Hazlitt recommends beginning with a half-hour of conscious, directed thought per day. His suggestion and his main thesis would ring less true if even this brief committment to time in our own heads was not so intimidating.
Of course, Hazlitt’s main thesis may have sufficient grounds in itself: the author produced this book when he was 21 years of age. I take this as fair evidence for the value of mastering and directing one’s thought, and doing it sooner rather than later.