The age of specialization is bringing with it a tighter focus on myopic, reductionist thinking and practice. This might be a good thing and it might not. It depends what you need.
Knowing something about a lot of things may be a specialty in-and-of itself. In college, it is called a Liberal Arts Education and in Medicine, a General (or Family) Practice. The world is beginning to feel the reduction in the numbers of generalists, people who are competent at a range of activities and with a wide scope of knowledge but are not demonstrably “world class” at any one of them.
Sometimes one needs a specialist ‘” one whose knowledge and skills are extremely and specifically highly developed in a particular area. Under other circumstances, the overview of a situation a generalist can better provide is more to the point. Rarely, if ever, is the opinion of a devour dilettante worth asking for.
To be educated as a generalist is not the same thing as being a dilettante. By definition, the dilettante is an amateur or dabbler ‘” One who knows just a tad about many things but not enough to be of much actual value or use with any of them. Real skills are not a requirement of “dilettantehood.”
Someone whose interests and/or skills are accurately described as “eclectic” is one whose interests are broad ranging and often include and encompass multiple points of view, subjects and approaches. Unlike the generalist, dilettante or jack-of-all-trades, eclecticism is more a function of range of interests than it is a comment on a specific degree of skill or lack thereof.
Being a dilettante is not a characterization of a level of knowledge. It is a life style which is, in fact, ALL style without meaningful content.
I suppose that being a “jack-of-all-trades and master of none” would fall somewhere in between being a generalist and a dabbler. These would be people with a broad range of moderate skills, most of which have some actual real life application. A generally reliable measure of a good one, like with a good handy man, is the person’s ability and willingness to acknowledge what they really know and what they don’t.
So, the generalist has some real knowledge and skills about a range of things that are, somehow related. The person appropriately described as eclectic has diverse interests and entertains more than one perspective. The dilettante, as a rule, knows nearly nothing about anything of consequence but lightly brushes over many things to create the false impression that they DO know something about everything.
Being a generalist and an eclectic are not necessary partners but neither are they mutually exclusive. Being a dilettante is in a category accompanied only by posturing, pretense and a false projection of real knowledge.
Three important terms and ideas that are important to understand and not confuse.