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John Stuart Mill was not one of Ed Baker’s favorite authors, although Ed knew his Mill well and drew on him for some of his important work. But I know Ed Baker would have been a particular favorite of John Stuart Mill. I say that not generically, but specifically. Mill said that what an adaptive, improving society needs most of all — even more than technological expertise — is the hardest thing to achieve: independent thinkers who have the courage to follow their thought wherever it leads, even when that journey risks unsettling their cherished beliefs or damaging their credibility. Ed Baker was that rare specimen, a truly independent thinker.

Courage is hard to come by, not least in academia. It is not easy when a scholar discovers that where his thought leads him will disappoint his intellectual compatriots or cause his ideas to be profiled unfairly. It is not easy when he learns that where he needs to go entails additional research or self-training that will require much more time and effort than he had planned to devote to a project. Genuine curiosity can lead a scholar out of his comfort zone, into domains where he lacks intellectual capital and/or credentials. In that circumstance, he may need months or years to get up to speed, all the while not knowing whether the effort will yield anything of value. But if he is going to explore a subject or problem or idea in the right way, sometimes that kind of risky, arduous, patient undertaking is requisite. Most of us, when we confront that hurdle, find ways to redefine our project. Ed Baker did not do that. He put in the time and took the risk.


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