Epstein on Specialization

by F.

Most lawyers know who Richard Epstein is. For any normal people reading this, suffice it to say that Epstein, a professor at Chicago, is both amazingly smart and amazingly prolific. Here’s what he says about specializing:

I have gone through much my entire academic career by trying to answer one question: just what do you specialize in, Professor Epstein? And my invariable answer to that question is “nothing, really.”

In fact, when I was very young and teaching at USC, my then new colleague, the late Gary Bellow asked, “What will you teach next year?” And I said, “Whatever I’m asked to do,” to which Bellow replied, “No utility infielder has ever made it into the hall of fame, and so you’ve got to figure out what it is that you want to specialize in.”

It occurred to me that he was probably right, but nonetheless I decided to disregard the advice and to continue on my errant ways. And that intellectual mindset, in fact, has led to the simple truth that I’m an outsider to every intellectual field in which I participate.

I’m not sure what the take-away is, but it is mildly inspiring to see someone range over a vast number of subjects and succeed. On the other hand, people do win the lottery.

Via Greg Mankiw’s blog.