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Intellectualism is any of a number of views regarding the use or development of the intellect or the practice of being an intellectual.[1] In non-specialized contexts, the term "intellectualism" is often used to describe an attitude of devotion or high regard for intellectual pursuits.[2] The term is sometimes used to name the view in philosophy that is more often called "rationalism", the view that knowledge largely or wholly is derived from reason or reasoning.[3][4] The term can carry negative connotations of two kinds: (1) single-mindedness or "too much attention to thinking" and/or (2) emotional coldness or the absence of emotion. [4][3][5]

From a psychological point of view we focus on that aspect which explains emotion and volition as the result of cognitive processes.

Intellectualism in Ancient Moral Philosophy[edit | edit source]

Socratic intellectualism is the view that "one will do what is right or best just as soon as one truly understands what is right or best." [6] Socrates is understood as saying that virtue is a purely intellectual matter, since virtue and knowledge are both cerebral relatives that one accumulates and improves with dedication. This so-called Socratic intellectualism was a key doctrine of the Stoics.

The apparently problematic consequences of this view are called "Socratic paradoxes" and are the subject of controversy. One example of a Socratic paradox is the view that there is no weakness of will, that no one knowingly does or seeks to do evil and that anyone who does or seeks to do moral wrong does so involuntarily. Another example is the view that virtue is knowledge and that there aren't many virtues but rather all virtues are one.

It has been disputed that Socrates' conceptions of knowing the truth and ethical conduct can be equated with modern, post-Cartesian conceptions of knowledge or rational intellectualism.[7] Foucault, for instance, has shown through his detailed historical studies that in the Antiquities knowing the truth is more akin to what we would understand as spiritual knowledge. Far from being concerned exclusively with the rational intellect, this form of knowing was part of a broader principle of caring for the self. It typically involved very particular ascetic exercises whose function was to ensure that knowledge of the truth was not only memorized but became embedded in and transformed the person themselves. To really understand the truth therefore meant not just an intellectual knowledge but required being at one with the (universal) truth and living it authentically in your speech, heart and conduct. Achieving this difficult task required constant care of the self but it meant being able to become someone who could 'speak freely' (a parrhesiastes) because they embodied the truth.[8] This is quite contrary to the modern understanding of truth and knowledge as a rational intellectual undertaking.

Intellectualism in Medieval Metaphysical Philosophy[edit | edit source]

In medieval philosophy intellectualism is a doctrine of divine and human action in which the faculty of the intellect takes precedence or has superiority over the faculty of will. Intellectualism is usually described as contrasting with voluntarism. "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."[9] Averroes, Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart are usually taken to be intellectualists of this sort.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. (Definition)
  2. Merriam-Webster. (Definition)
  3. 3.0 3.1 HighBeam. (Oxford definition)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Encarta. (Definition)
  5. Infoplease. (Definition)
  6. FOLDOC. (Definition and note on Socrates)
  7. Template:Cite web url =
  8. Gros, Frederic (Ed)(2005) Michel Foucault: The Hermeneutics of the Subject. Lectures at the College de France 1981-1982. Picador: New York
  9. Voluntarism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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