George Gook: Are Intellectuals Intelligent?

Harold Walsby, in several of the talks he gave, insisted on the importance of the difference between intellect and intelligence. I never heard him elaborate the point, but recognition of it is crucial for a grasp of systematic ideology. In those early days I assumed that his distinction was based upon the political terminology of European radical attitudes: the intelligentsia referred to the educated and professional classes, regarded as the people most likely to introduce new ideas into society, while the intellectuals were those who tended to argue radical views relevant to social problems.

Most dictionaries treat the two words as synonymous, but further checking produces a philosophical definition for intellectualism as “the doctrine that knowledge is wholly or mainly derived from the action of the intellect, i.e. from pure reason.”[1] Extensions on the meaning of intelligence suggest the information or knowledge as such rather than the source of knowledge. This is strongly pronounced in such themes as “animal intelligence,” “machine intelligence,” “secret intelligence.” Thus the question whether animals can reason does not affect the recognition that some are considered quite intelligent, and that comparisons between animals of different intelligence are readily found. Likewise the computer can be regarded as “a complete moron” that has to be told exactly and in full detail what to do to carry out a programme, even when the product of its operations represents “advanced technology.”

Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind [2] distinguishes between “knowing how and knowing that,” which supports the notion that arts and science represent intellectual pursuits whereas the ordinary knowledge of what to do in a given situation indicates commonsense intelligence. Survival in the evolutionary sense depends upon “knowing that” rather than on any analytical process of “knowing how”. The essential difference between instinct and intelligence is that instinctive behaviour is an automatic response to a perceived situation, whereas intelligent behaviour represents a delayed response, while the perceived situation is compared with other remembered situations, to decide which of several responses is justified. The British psychologist N. K. Humphrey has stated “if, despite appearances, the important practical problems of living demand only relatively low-level intelligence for their solution, there would be grounds for supposing that high-level creative intelligence is being wasted.” [3]

Here lies the crux of the difference, for Humphrey considers that “the chief creative use of human intellect lies not in art and science but in holding human society together.” He states elsewhere:

Social primates are required, by the very nature of the system they create and maintain, to be calculating beings. They must be able to calculate the consequences of the their own behaviour, to calculate the likely behaviour of others, to calculate the balance of advantage and loss – and all this in a context where the evidence on which their calculations are based is ephemeral, ambiguous, and liable to change, not least as a consequence of their own actions… here at last the intellectual faculties required are of the highest order.

When one begins to look through the literature for instances in which the differences between intellect and intelligence are recognised, they are not hard to find. C. R. Hallpike, in his Foundations of Primitive Thought, refers to “the often overlooked distinction between the intellectual and the ordinary man in primitive thought,” [4] while P. Radin “characterizes the intellectual as concerned with the character of his own thought.” [5] These two writers have specifically differentiated between “intelligence” and “intellect,” but others have referred to “higher intelligence” or “creative intelligence” while Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind refers to a “metaphoric intelligence” which has the “capacity to integrate diverse intelligences.” His book expounds his theory that human intelligence is not a simple case of a unified intelligence but a complex of intelligences that have specialist functions and sometimes also specific locations in the brain. [6] This theory explains the phenomenon of idiots savants and also suggests an evolutionary process for the development of “self-consciousness,” the one factor above all that differentiates mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom.

1. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 3rd Edn
2. Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind Penguin Books Ltd. reprint 1986
3. N. K. Humphrey, The Social Function of Intellect, in “Growing Points in Ethology,” ed. Bateson & Hinde, Cambridge University Press 1975. (Quoted in The Evolution of Human Consciousness by J. H. Crooks, Clarendon Press 1980)
4. C. R. Hallpike, The Foundations of Primitive Thought, Clarendon Press 1979
5. P. Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher, Dover Publications, NY, 1957
6. H. Gardner, Frames of Mind, the theory of multiple intelligences, Wm. Heinemann Ltd 1984, Paladin Books 1985

from Ideological Commentary 39, May 1989.