Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Psychology: Intelligence does not lead to better judgement, decision-making

Dennis Prager, who interviewed Mario and me about The Spiritual Brain, argues,
Most Americans upon hearing that someone has attended Harvard University assumes that this person is not only smarter than most other people but is actually a more impressive person. That is why, for example, people assume that a Nobel laureate in physics has something particularly intelligent to say about social policy. In fact, there is no reason at all to assume that a Nobel physicist has more insight into health care issues or capital punishment than a high school physics teacher, let alone more insight than a moral theologian. But people, especially the highly educated, do think so. That's why one frequently sees ads advocating some political position signed by Nobel laureates.

Intellectuals, e.g., those with graduate degrees, have among the worst, if not the worst, records on the great moral issues of the past century. Intellectuals such as the widely adulated French intellectual Jean Paul Sartre were far more likely than hardhats to admire butchers of humanity like Stalin and Mao. But this has had no impact on most people's adulation of the intellect and intellectuals.

So, too, the current economic decline was brought about in large measure by people in the financial sector widely regarded as "brilliant." Of course, it turns out that many of them were either dummies, amoral, incompetent, or all three.
Prager is making the classical distinction between being smart and being wise. It is wisdom that is the worthwhile pursuit and the source of whatever real happiness we may find in this life.

By the way, if you want to know what is wrong with modern secular intellectuals, read Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, a magisterial study of people who thought ideas were more important than people, and what really happened.

(Note: No one doubts that clinical developmental delay creates problems with judgement. But it does not follow that brilliance leads to good judgement. The two situations are not commensurate.)

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