By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not Dumbing Intelligence Down

Boy with Down Syndrome assembling a book case.Image via Wikipedia
Classical Greek seems more precise than Latin, but Latin seems to me to be more precise than English. We can see this greater Latin precision when we consider what "intelligence" is. In a recent conversation, a friend and I marveled how our technologically advanced, very industrious Anglo-Saxon society, in practice, narrowly defines "intelligence" as what makes us efficient or productive in problem-solving, especially technical problem-solving. (This instrumental view of intelligence has even contaminated fields, like philosophy, which are traditionally viewed as part of the humanities.)

In contrast, in Latin, the verb "intellēgo" has various levels of meaning: to understand or grasp mentally, to become aware of, to understand thoroughly as a connoisseur, to understand a person's character, to judge, to appreciate, to be well acquainted with, and, even, to have good taste (see Cassell's Latin Dictionary).

My friend and I discussed how we often deride what we view as inferior or non-existent intelligence based on our reductionistic narrowing of intelligence to what is technically efficient and productive. The example he gave was of an autistic college student who was met with some resistance in his attempt to join a student housing cooperative. We also discussed how the distinctive kindness of individuals with Downs Syndrome exhibits a certain type of intelligence that is in many ways superior to the technical intelligence we tend to idolize.

Book CoverImage via Wikipedia
Psychologists are aware of the dangers of mistakenly (unintelligently!) narrowing our definition of intelligence. To get this point across, one popular book on this topic is entitled Emotional Intelligence. When we are tempted to compare intelligence levels or to view others as less intelligent, maybe the intelligent thing to do is to pause and ask more precisely, in a very Latin way, about what kind or level of intelligence we are speaking. Is it merely technically efficient intelligence? Or is it the intelligence of intuitive appreciation? Or the intelligence of discerning character, motives, and emotions? Is it the intelligence of good and refined taste? Or is it the most life-changing intelligence of all--the intelligence of appreciating the good, the true, and the beautiful, a form of intelligence that enters the realm of love? Why not ask intelligent questions about intelligence?