Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent

"The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent" is an essay by a professor, John Erskine, at Columbia University. Erskine was active in the first half of the twentieth century. For some, the half-century that has intervened would make his thought obsolete.

I will admit a certain suspicion of "timeless truths." Actually, it's those who speak of timeless truths that I'm suspicious of, not the timelessness of certain truths. What is it that I suspect them of? Naiveté or, to be more precise, a belligerent naiveté that willfully ignores the exciting world of changing circumstance.

I am not so much interested in the content of Erskine's essay as I am in his title. I think there is a moral obligation to be intelligent - not smart or bright, but intelligent.

Intelligence is the ability to see things in the light of truer things. By "truer things" I mean first principles. "First principles," though, sounds a bit too scholastic and philosophical. Let's be content, then, with saying that intelligence is the act of looking beyond the present and the immediate.

If my blog makes any contribution to the intelligence of others (or even just my own), I will be satisfied.


mccaleb said...

ahhh. Wait. R and R weekend is destroying my brain. suspect naivete on the part of those who advocate timeless truths, yet you exhort looking past the immediate to first principles?

I'm confused. Were you saying in paragraph 2 that your view of the timless truthers is negative?

Would you draw a distinction between timeless truths and first principles?
*is kicking into HL mode*

Hansonius said...

Not all timeless truthers are naive. Some are, so I tend to be suspicious of all. The interest that some people have in timeless truths often blinds them to problems in the here and now.

In my mind not all timeless truths are first principles. All first principles, in virtue of being "deeper" than anything in the here and now would be timeless.