Not Your Typical Intelligent Design

I am often enviously impressed by how much knowledge some people have of things I never even think to look into. I sometimes have no response to someone who makes evident their accumulation of facts on a given theme, such as movies (I have watched maybe fifty movies in my entire life?). I’m impressed by this because it puts my knowledge to the test, and it dreadfully reminds me that people are engaged and take pleasure in things that do not seem to feign my interest, for whatever reason. The time I spend doing yoga or translating neglected texts or drinking tea and looking out of the window is time these people spend catching up on the world’s happenings and participating in popular culture. And they are well-versed within a discourse that I have always considered myself to be in the margins of, and not necessarily against my will. So people who know facts and things and stuff impress me because these are facts and things and stuff that are absent from my field of existence.

What impresses me more, though, is how some rare individuals think: the manner in which they conceptualize any fact or situation, the directions their thoughts take that seem to hit right at the heart of whatever is under discussion, their ability to be witty and original, to draw out subtleties, to make accurate connections, to bring forth newness from the dogmatically over-explored sameness. In other words–Immanuel Kant’s words, to be exact–what impresses me most is an individual’s power of judgment.

According to Kant the power of judgment is part of the logic of truth as the way of arriving to principles. It is concerned with applying pure concepts to empirical objects, or moving from the abstract to the concrete. Using good judgment means knowing how to subsume concretes under general rules, and knowing when and how you are justified in doing so. It is a general way of behaving intelligently in the world. What makes the power of judgment authentic is that it cannot be measured or learned, only practiced. So unlike empirical facts or rules, which can be learned, the power of judgment is an innate faculty that is concerned with the application of rules: it displays a persons’a ability to take what is given and synthesize it, make out of it something original and draw accurate conclusions (if they are using it successfully). This, for Kant, is what intelligence is. Being “stupid” would therefore mean being incapable of applying the general to the concrete, or doing this application mechanically. So intelligence encompasses, for Kant, a particular mental ability (instead of knowledge of content, though we need content to be able to apply concepts) and a certain level of creative authenticity (generating truth in new ways by logically applying principles to your own unique particulars, so then this is where examples become necessary, but I won’t dwell on that).

This is an important realization, and not because it releases me from feeling stupid for not knowing a lot of “facts.” It is imperative for reasons such as questioning intelligence-measuring methods like standardly testing students or calculating IQs. It ultimately implies that if intelligence is the power of one’s judgment, it can’t be simply evaluated (though, granted, some standardized tests aim precisely to measure the effects of one’s power of judgment, but do so with data and facts the students don’t choose, and which many students do not have exposure to–and here I’m thinking of minority groups who statistically perform worse in such tests than their counterparts, and not because they’re “stupid”). Equating intelligence with the power of judgment, and saying as Kant does that it cannot be learned (only practiced) means that intelligence levels are innate and that some people are naturally sharper than others, and these can be people as varied as my doctor, my grandmother, my landlord, my professor, etc. Their positionally will inevitably affect what they apply their concepts to, but having good judgment for any one of them would mean that each is equipped with the general faculty of being able to apply principles to particulars, does this accurately, and practices this ability regardless of what the situation is.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so impressed by how many movies and events and whatnot a person talks about and more so with whether this person can make good judgments about the information she takes in. There’s another question to be asked: is it a good use of their judgment to take in the information they do, and is it a poor use of my judgment to abstain from watching a movie and do yoga instead? You can certainly call me out there, but remember that I never claimed to have good judgment.


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