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The Life of the Mind: the philosophic pioneer, Socrates (ca.469-399 B.C.)

Intellectualism refers to related mental perspectives that emphasize the use, the development, and the exercise of the intellect; and also identifies the life of the mind of the intellectual person.[1] In the field of philosophy, "intellectualism" is synonymous with rationalism, knowledge derived from reason.[2] Moreover, the term intellectualism can also have a socially negative connotation about a man or woman intellectual who gives "too much attention to thinking" (single-mindedness of purpose) and who shows an "absence of affection and feeling" (emotional coldness).[2][3]

Ancient moral intellectualism

The Greek philosopher Socrates (c. 470-399 BC) proposed that intellectualism allows that "one will do what is right or best just as soon as one truly understands what is right or best"; that virtue is a purely intellectual matter, because virtue and knowledge are related qualities that a person accrues, possesses, and improves by dedication to reason.[4] So defined, Socratic intellectualism was an important philosophic component of Stoicism in which the problematic consequences of such a perspective are "Socratic paradoxes", such as there is no weakness of will -- that no one knowingly does, or seeks to do, evil (moral wrong); that anyone who does, or seeks to do, moral wrong does so involuntarily; and that virtue is knowledge, that there are not many virtues, but that all virtues are one.

Contemporary philosophers disagree that Socrates's conceptions of the knowledge of truth, and of ethical conduct, can be equated with modern, post-Cartesian conceptions of knowledge and of rational intellectualism.[5] As such, Michel Foucault demonstrated, with detailed historical study, that in Classical Antiquity (800 BC - AD 1000), "knowing the truth" is akin to "spiritual knowledge", in the contemporarily understanding of the concept; hence, without exclusively concerning the rational intellect, spiritual knowledge is integral to the broader principle of "caring for the self".

Typically, such care of the self-involved specific ascetic exercises meant to ensure that not only was knowledge of truth memorized, but learned, and then integrated to the self, in the course of transforming oneself into a good person. Therefore, to understand truth meant "intellectual knowledge" requiring one's integration to the (universal) truth, and authentically living it in one's speech, heart, and conduct. Achieving that difficult task required continual care of the self, but also meant being someone who embodies truth, and so can readily practice the Classical-era rhetorical device of parrhesia: "to speak candidly, and to ask forgiveness for so speaking"; and, by extension, practice the moral obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.[6] This ancient, Socratic moral philosophic perspective contradicts the contemporary understanding of truth and knowledge as rational undertakings.

Medieval theological intellectualism

Medieval theological intellectualism is a doctrine of divine action, wherein the faculty of intellect precedes, and is superior to, the faculty of the will (voluntas intellectum sequitur). As such, Intellectualism is contrasted with voluntarism, which proposes the Will as superior to the intellect, and to the emotions; hence, the stance that "according to intellectualism, choices of the Will result from that which the intellect recognizes as good; the will, itself, is determined. For voluntarism, by contrast, it is the Will which identifies which objects are good, and the Will, itself, is indetermined".[7] From that philosophical perspective and historical context, the Spanish Muslim polymath Averroës (1126-1198) in the 12th century, the Italian Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), and the German Christian theologian Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) in the 13th century, are recognised intellectualists.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ "Merriam-Webster". (Definition)
  2. ^ a b "Intellectualism". Retrieved 2013. (Oxford definition)
  3. ^ "Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. (Definition)
  4. ^ "FOLDOC". Archived from the original on 2007-07-15. (Definition and note on Socrates)
  5. ^ Heda Segvic. "No one Errs Willingly: The Meaning of Socratic Intellectualism" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-30.
  6. ^ Gros, Frederic (ed.)(2005) Michel Foucault: The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Lectures at the College de France 1981-1982. Picador: New York
  7. ^ a b "Voluntarism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  8. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, A Companion to Meister Eckhart, BRILL, 2012, p. 410.

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