Sunday, December 28, 2008


Today I randomly thought about any enigmatic questions that have crossed my mind on a daily basis. I pondered about the fundamental difference between being smart, intelligent, and intellectual. I personally think that each word is only used as a characteristic to describe a certain type of person. But I also think that each word also has a different meaning depending on the context. For whatever reason some people use these words interchangeably but I honestly think they shouldn't be.
For example I think the word intellectual is used to describe a prominent writer, thinker, or historical figure. This word is also primarily used in an academic setting. It has a prestigious distinction that sets it apart from any of the other adjectives that describe a keen person. I also think that intellect is an innate attribute. People are blessed with the gift of thinking differently than the rest of mankind. Intellectuals view the world through a different lens. Many intellectuals can be considered philosophers.
Smart I think is a word used to describe someone who is stellar as far as obtaining good grades in school. You can be smart and not be an intellectual. Although most people can obtain good grades if they work hard enough not everyone has the unique ability to articulate their thoughts through speech or on paper. An intellectual has a reached a higher plane of learning and has superseded the way most people think. When people use the word intellectual to characterize an individual it is implied that they are in the vanguard of society. But the word smart is a common way of saying somebody is sharp. A real world of an example of an intellectual would be Dr. Cornel West because he has a profound understanding of the way the world functions and is able to apply his theories to his field of study. Somebody who is smart is somebody who possesses the knowledge to win jeopardy but is not able to elaborate on certain issues.

Now the last word intelligent I think has a different connotation. When somebody is intelligent they can be knowledgeable about certain subjects and while having their own personal views on different topics. But I think when people call other people intelligent it is insinuated that they have acquired a lot of knowledge in their field or compiled many facts about different topics. At the end of the day these words all have seperate meanings.


  1. I agree that each of these terms holds a different meaning. However, I find it interesting that you did not see it fit to expand on the word "smart" just a little more. What about street smarts? Certainly you do not believe that being smart only entails book smarts? Also, consider comparing the word "intelligent" to your definition of smart and intellectual.

  2. Great assessment. Well I must say the street smarts is a different kind of smart but a category of smarts nonetheless. Street smarts is knowledge gained in an urban environment that can be used for survival in the inner city. Street smarts has the potential of being transformed into book smarts. For example if somebody is a street pharmaceutical he can use his math skills that were acquired in the streets and apply it to the real world and become a connoisseur. Also street smarts is comprised of an urban sense of awareness that helps you observe your surroundings in an urban neighborhood and can be crucial for you to survive. Intelligent and the word smart are different. As I mentioned earlier smarts is something that you can attain and just be able acquire if you studied hard. Intelligent means that you have a good understanding of a certain subject and are able to compile facts. It also means that you are able to pick things up fast. Intellectual is a word used to describe a person that is born with an innate ability to have insight into certain valuable topics mainly pertaining to academia philosophy or just life. Historical figures tend to be intellectual and jeopardy contestants seem to be intelligent.

  3. Well I will say as an opinion, and just take it for what it is, the three words are separate and together at the same time. And what I will say is also kind of piggybacking off of what alex has written already. Separate in terms of being separate levels, ability, achievement, however you want to describe it, but together in terms of describing a person's value in society. Society not necessarily meaning something huge, it can also mean something as variant in size as a social circle. I feel that anyone can obtain the level of being smart due to the fact that if one is just simply aware of their environment and knows of a particular environment over time, then that person is "smart" about the knowledge they wanted to achieve. I think that includes both book and street smarts alike, but again this is just what I've observed. I could always be wrong about that.
    Intelligence, I feel, can be someone who achieves beyond the level of being smart and is now what I consider to be an expert of their field. That can be book smarts alone or it can be street smarts alone. For example, a organic chem professor I once had class with I feel is a very intelligent man. He is an expert in his specific field of organic chemistry. My father, on the other hand is intelligent as well. He may not have been a college/phD graduate, but he lived, has seen, and made himself aware of all the changes that have happened in NYC from the time he came to this country at age 18 till now. My father would be considered street smart yes, the professor considered book smart definitely, but I feel that both are intelligent men because they've gone beyond just obtaining information and just knowing it off the top of their heads. They use what they know, express what they know, and will use all they know to whatever means they wish to use it.

    Now as far as intellectuals are concerned, while I feel that sometimes the word is used a lil too loosely in our society, my definition is not necessarily the highest plane of intellect or saying that my definition means a person of the greatest status available. I feel that my definition might be that of a Renaissance man (or woman) if you will (by the way it's a great movie, Danny DeVito's in it gotta love it lol).

    I feel that to be an intellectual is someone who is constantly studying more than just one field alone. I feel that it is a person who can take book smarts and street smarts, put them together, and come up with ideas that are probably ideals in the making. And I won't limit street smarts to just urban life alone, we can even use suburban street smarts if it's comfortable for some people to say. Taking both the experiences of their own lives combined with that learned in the textbooks and the exams and the diplomas/degrees/etc. and using it for purposes again not limited to educating the public.

    I would hope that people I feel that are intellectuals based on what I'm thinking here are using their knowledge, which I consider as a very clear form of power, for the betterment of society. And it doesn't even necessarily have to be public speaking that they do it. Technology and forms of expression are quite useful when it comes to getting a message across. I feel these three words aren't necessarily fixed in anyway but can be means which if people put their mind to it, can be achieved.
    (and by the way, if none of this is clear PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS!! i'd be happy to try and clarify...sometimes when i write stuff i have a tendency to go WAY off on a tangent lol great blog!!)

  4. I would have to agree with Jennifer, in that an intellectual may come in all forms, and just to state it in a different way, individuals who are considered to be intellectuals are very much well rounded in their knowledge. And just to add to that, I do not necessarily agree with you Alex, that for one to be an intellectual, they had to have been born with the quality. Instead, I believe that the state of being an intellectual is also a product of one's environment.

    In addition, I also agree with Jennifer, in that these words are not fixed. It seems that their definitions change according to society's values at the present time. For example, if streets smarts is not a quality that society values, then it certainly would not be included amongst any of these definitions. In fact, some people still believe that streets smarts is not a valid nor useful form of knowledge. But of course, people who feel this way are drawing this conclusion based on their own experiences and upbringings.

    So really, in the end, the terms, intellectual, intelligent, and smart, are plastic terms. They vary according to context...And if we wanted to expand this discussion even further, we can go as far as talking about Epistemology -the study of the origin of knowledege. I think that would be an excellent topic for discussion. If you think about it, we often practice this branch of philosophy on a daily basis. When you come across new information, you often question its validity. You question where or who did it come from, what facts and/or data is the information based on, and whether or not the source is reliable....Well it seems that I am going off on a tangent...but if anyone decides to take on this topic, let me know! I will gladly participate in the discussion.

  5. These are all insightful and valuable conclusions and opinions. Curious George although I do agree with some of what you are saying, I believe that intellectuals do not necessarily have to be well rounded in their knowledge. The textbook definition for intellectual is a person devoted to the matters of the mind; one given to the study and refection especially concerning large, profound, or abstract issues.
    The logic behind my own definition for intellectual arose from the idea that talent cannot be taught. Somebody has to be born with talent in order to foster it. It is analogous to some one who wins a gold medal in the Olympics. Despite the dedication and hard work if you do not have the God given ability to perform at that level you will not win a gold medal or even qualify for the Olympics. Only certain people are destined to accomplish certain things. Just like the ability to think critically and analyze the information is unique, not everyone possesses the quality. Not because everyone was not raised in a particular environment that stimulated intellect but because certain people do not possess that gift.

    So now the question becomes whether these definitions change over time according to the value system and standard of society at the time or do they remain consistent regardless of the value system. And even if textbook definitions exist there is still room for interpretation..