Aren’t We All “Intellectuals”?



What does it actually mean to be intellectual? I see this used quite a bit by people either describing themselves ( noun) or referentially (adjective). I am coming, more and more, to the conclusion that in either usage, it is something meant to be condescending to those that are being spoken to or about. I used to consider myself an intellectual, and in that I believed that what I thought was more important, or better informed, than those uneducated, hoi-poloi.  I meant, at that time, that no one, less educated than myself, could possibly understand complicated political or social issues, or even methodology in the sciences. In other words: you are less than me.

I stopped using that term years ago because I discovered, to my great shame at the time, that 1) Education level has nothing to do with how smart and discerning a person may be and 2) Using that word in whatever form (noun, adjective) only tends to shut down the conversation, whatever the subject may be. Who wants to talk to someone that believes themselves to be above the crowd? I know that’s not the intent of the word, but that’s how most people view those that may overuse it in any conversation.

I have expertise in a few areas and in that way, I’m a Subject Matter Expert. Yes, I have years of knowledge and experience but that doesn’t make me an intellectual in those. All it sys is that I’ve worked in those disciplines.  In other areas, I may have an opinion, but it doesn’t make me an SME. In fact, the idea of being an intellectual because someone is interested in a subject they have no expertise is is laughable. It makes them curious. I’m curious about a lot of subjects. I read a lot , on many different subjects within a variety of disciplines. Some may refer to that as an intellectual interest. I just, as I said, call it a basic curiosity.

I have found in my life that I may find something interesting in many areas I had never considered when I was younger. Does that make me an intellectual? Sometimes I find myself investigating an area of interest that I quickly discover, I actually have no interest in pursuing

The question begs itself: What constitutes an intellectual?  If it’s someone that’s interested in a number of different subjects, that may be defined as an intellectual pursuit. But I think it;s less that than just  a common curiosity.I have many interests that are far beyond any expertise I have. Does that alone make me an intellectual?  I don;t think so. The problem with the word itself is, as I said, have people believe something that doesn’t exist. So, I’m in favor of discarding the term. Not forever or in every instance, but just as a general term that may give the impression that whoever is speaking, knows better than we do. That their “intellectual pursuit” is more important than whatever anyone else has to say. Let’s level the plating field and consider that everyone is an intellectual in their own way. If that’s true, and I think it is, we don’t need to use this word anymore.


4 thoughts on “Aren’t We All “Intellectuals”?

  1. Hmmm, interesting! Never thought of it that way.
    For me, intellectuals are people that ask “why?” and actually want to hear the answer.

    A new trend I have been noticing here in the Netherlands is that of “intellectualism”, which might be what you have come to dislike.

    Intellectualists use big words and constantly quote philosophers and other big thinkers to win an argument. These are annoying discussions to be in and even more so to witness (we have a new politician that does this).

    There is no room for “why” (or “wtf”) in a discussion with an intellectualist. Asking a question makes you look like the dumb one, all though the opposite may actually be true!


  2. When it comes to intellect & intellectualism, there are a couple of quotes from Einstein that have always appealed to me.
    ” Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

    And my favorite:
    ” If you can’t explain it to a 6-year old, you don’t know it yourself.”


  3. I wouldn’t say that the term has much to do with intelligence. I think of it more as a set of values or attitudes about learning and the value of knowledge. It seems like intellectual curiosity would be a big part of it.


  4. There are many people, who never question, rarely think about anything and who simply live by rote. Their routine does not stretch their minds with anything more taxing than what to eat next or what color nail polish they should use or whom they should text next about the latest gossip or what just came over the scanner or what idiot meme or pet photo to place on their FaceBook page.

    They also watch the same type of mind-boggling trash or read the Bible or Bible-approved books or play their favorite video game in which they exist.

    No, we are not all intellectuals. No, I do not consider myself an intellectual, but I exist as a critical thinker of various topics and as a person that ponders the ways of life and the planet and the history of humanity, the problems of various governments, current events that will affect the future, the problems of religions upon human history and what the future may hold…and I try to find out what I do not know and I am interested in the opinions of others.

    If I had a different life and had used my past to other purpose, I may have become an intellectual, but I am a wife and homemaker, a mother and grandmother and a farmer and poultry grower. The pursuit of intellectual knowledge has been for my time left over from other activities. I think true intellectuals make the pursuit of knowledge their full-time job or at the least, an overwhelming hobby. My mediocre routine of living interferes, consuming both my time and energy. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.


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