Mini-Feature: Wisdom vs. Intelligence

You can have one without the other

Is intelligence or wisdom more useful?

Wisdom is not measured in utils. It is NOT a lot of things, as it pertains in all ways to the limits circumscribed by sacred NOs to the infinite pleas and demands of men. People, who feel too often more useless than they want to, don’t like to be told no.

These experiences of confinement on this side of uselessness open a door to fear, a more than natural fear definitive of our given lives. “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”—even Jesus does not teach to pray that God be our friend or even our use-maker but that He forgive us for crossing, as always we do, his sacred No. accepting this relationship is our sacred Yes.

But God’s NOs and those of wisdom are in fact quite parsimonious. And the affirmative commandments are too, in a certain reading: love God and love your neighbor as you would love yourself. This leaves room for a superabundant field of knowledge, a most useful thing—divinely so—indeed.

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind


-David Bahr, managing editor of The American Mind

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Wisdom has an interesting and underrated characteristic: you can borrow it from other people. Intelligence is by definition a capacity that you have—the extent to which it may be developed and cultivated is one thing, but in itself it is a faculty that you possess in some large or small measure to use at your own will, like a singing voice or a talent for cooking. Faced with a math problem or a logic puzzle, for example, the essential test of your intelligence is how effectively you, and no one else, can figure it out. 

But wisdom can be sought from others, taken, accepted, and applied whether one can personally see the sense of it or not. The willingness to do this seeking and accepting is in fact itself one of the rudiments of wisdom: “be not wise in your own understanding.” There’s a reason why Proverbs, the Bible’s essential book of wisdom, is framed as a series of instructions from father to son—“listen to a father’s instruction / pay attention and get understanding / I give you sound learning / so do not forsake my teaching.”  

And again: “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. / Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Paradoxically, the essence of being wise is to perceive one’s own lack of wisdom and to feel its want acutely. As the Scripture succinctly illustrates, this longing for wisdom comes with a recognition of it in others, and a willingness to submit to their instruction as superior to one’s own judgment.  

Thus it is no contradiction to say that the beginning of wisdom is also “fear of the Lord,” which means accepting and confessing that there will always, for your whole eternal life, be a consciousness higher than yourself from whom you must accept instruction. This is kind of a pain in the ass and involves daily self-discipline. But like all self-discipline, the annoyance of it is immeasurably outweighed by the vast riches it produces. Hence wisdom is far and away more valuable than intelligence: the source of the former is infinite, and its resources are therefore by necessity greater than those of your own measly intelligence. Seek wisdom, then, at any cost—and be not wise in your own understanding, ya schmuck. 

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind