Aristotle’s Take on Intelligence: Always Towards Happiness

Terence Irwin defines Aristotle’s usage of Happiness as:

Happiness is the complete (teleios) end, the only one that is not towards any other end.”

Further, in striking contrast with our understanding of Intelligence today, Irwin clarifies Aristotle’s use of the term:

Intelligence is good deliberation about things towards one’s own happiness in general…’Intelligence’ is misleading to the extent that we associate it with an intellectual ability that someone might have without any wisdom in planning his life (this mere ability would be somewhat like Aristotle’s ‘comprehension’).”

What we call intelligence today equates more towards mere comprehension in Aristotle’s view. When we talk about intelligence, we’re usually referring to various cognitive abilities (executive functions, memory, processing, etc.). But we have very meager, if any, conceptual connections between intelligence and our ultimate aims. In today’s terms, very intelligent people can lead very miserable lives. This is fine, so long as we don’t conflate intelligence with wisdom, or in any way mistake being intelligent for being better. Intelligence as cognitive ability disconnected from ultimate aims is arbitrary. It may be useful in increasing earning potential, but earning potential is only useful in so far as it propels us towards our complete end, Aristotle’s Happiness.

Intimately woven with purpose & happiness, true intelligence is wisdom in planning our lives. Let’s find a way to measure, and value, that.

 

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