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How to Distinguish Intelligence From Wisdom

Updated: 5 days ago

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(For my work on the topic of genius, click here)


What is intelligence, and how is it different from wisdom?

Intelligence is the ability to learn, understand, and apply knowledge skillfully. As such, intelligence is a virtue. The artist may be intelligent by the fact that he applies his knowledge in one or more artistic crafts. Wisdom, on the other hand is the ability to use knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgements.

As such, wisdom is a practical tool. Thus, the intelligent person may not be practical, necessarily, if their skill isn't practical. That is, while the wise person is measured by their ability to make realistic judgement of situations and characters. The point of making judgement is to survive. And surviving, of course, allows us to thrive.

Intelligence is often measured by IQ tests, which are controversial in their ability to do so. However, there is no single test that can measure intelligence accurately.

Can a person be considered more intelligent but less wise, or vice versa?

Yes, it is possible for a person to be more intelligent but less wise, or vice versa. As stated, Intelligence is about the ability to learn and understand, while wisdom is about the ability to use that knowledge to make good decisions. For example, a person can be very intelligent, and yet, lack the life experience or emotional maturity to make wise decisions. Conversely, a person can be less intelligent but have a lot of life experience and wisdom, which he or she may use practically.

Dr. Eggman, which has been covered on Philosocom, is very intelligent, but very unwise character -- hence why he constantly loses to his foes, despite being an extremely talented genius. He is very gifted, but far from practical, making him an incompetent intellect.

What role does intelligence play in our everyday lives, and even in our survival?

Intelligence plays an important role in our everyday lives. It helps us to learn new things, solve problems, and make valuable decisions. Intelligence can also help us to avoid danger and survive in difficult situations, when combined with wisdom.

Here is a simple example of a smart decision:

  • Deciding to study for a test instead of going out with friends.

Here are 2 examples of a foolish decision:

Why is it measured by IQ tests, which are controversial in their ability to do so?

IQ tests are controversial because they are not always accurate. In addition, they were and can be used for discrimination against those who scored lowly, in favor of those who excelled. IQ tests also only measure certain types of intelligence, such as logical-mathematical intelligence. There are many other types of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence and social intelligence, that are not measured by IQ tests. In turn, this could lead to misconceptions that can trigger the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Is there actually a significant difference between intelligence and wisdom?

The problem is that each of these words can be used to define the other without the need of distinction. The fact that they are so similar may be sufficent for an effective communication, thus devaluing the need for distinguishing between the terms. An intelligent decision, for example, can just be as accepted as a wise decision without the necessity of altering the meaning in this sentence. It is reasonable to assume that the true difference between these words only arrives when education is at hand.

Several insights

The most obvious pathway to intelligence and wisdom is knowledge. Knowledge is a resource that can reveal to you opportunities you would not have otherwise considered. In other words, knowledge is power. For example, learning new strategies in chess can increase the intelligence of your decisions when facing a formidable opponent. Those who are unaware of their abilities and their potentials are not necessarily stupid, but they can make their current decisions even smarter than before, should they be aware of what they're truly capable of.

As such, the intellect applies knowledge in the name of their skill, like with the artist's example. An intelligent artist is one that uses their skills very efficently. However, not all skills are practical necessarily. The wise person may apply the knowledge they earned thus far in order to make smarter decisions, and in order to better evaluate the environment they are in.

The problem with the word "stupidity" is that it is often used as an insult. Almost everyone is likely to be offended by this adjective, so when referring to people without the intention of insulting them, you are either confined to ignore their "stupidity", falsely call them wise, or twist your speech in a way that will compliment them through a change of perspective... All in your efforts to not insult them with the possible truth about them.

For example, talking about one's potential instead of their incompetence can give a person hope instead of being insulted. It might be important to criticize, but unfortunately, some people are more emotionally sensitive than others. Thus, you may need to understand the individual you're speaking to, in order to make smart decisions upon interaction and collaboration. Perhaps you don't even need to bring the topic up, nor lead to the subject?

While many people can be smart, education requires certificates that not everyone has. These documents grant them a distinction, both interpersonal and practical, that does not exist within the other adjectives. Regardless, not every educated person will make smart decisions in all fields, even if their academic titles represent extraordinary intelligence in a very specific field. This leads to a variant of the appeal to authority fallacy, known as the degree fallacy.

Thus, even the educated can be somewhat "dumb" as all of us can be. And by "dumb" I mean incompetent. It all depends on the task at hand and whether or not you have the knowledge required to make choices that give you more benefit than otherwise.


Intelligence is a complex concept that is difficult to define without pure disagreement. However, it is clear that intelligence plays an important role in our everyday lives. Especially in our professional lives. The more intelligent we are, the better equipped we are to make good decisions that will lead to beneficial outcomes.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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