Intellectual Caution

Apart from snobbery or pride, a common “repercussion” of intellectualism — or simply, cleverness – is the loss of honest internal/external reflection and a dangerous ability to justify any sort of means.  This problem is most apparent when one contrasts the worldview of children to that of adults; children are far more inclined to see things “black and white” or understand in simplistic terms what is right and wrong. Adults, on the other hand, are likely to have discovered the art of extensive justification.  This happens all the time on a daily, personal basis with people but for a more extreme example, we can point to political figures who consistently justify war and dictate the deaths of innocent people.  Most children would not get past the initial idea of killing anyone, in my opinion. For within that simple, clear worldview,  what is there to discuss? However, we (as adults) are quick to discuss, justify, make excuses…and at a certain point, I wonder what humans (especially humans in a position of power) could not justify for themselves? Too often, we criticize simplicity as a notion that suggests an individual is ignorant.  I have to disagree here; simplicity is far more genius than convoluted, caveat-ridden philosophies that are only available to the “mighty intellectual class.” This is not to say that intellectualism is in itself wrong (what are we if not truth-seeking individuals? Apathetic, lazy?) — I have always been drawn to the intellectual world, but I have the utmost respect for the genius of simplicity — it is certainly harder, more honest work to hold oneself to a foundation of clear expectations.  In what ways does the philosophical tradition lead us away from honesty? We should work hard at our own philosophies, of course: as we develop as humans it is crucial to address the seemingly endless contradictions of the modern world and ask questions that deepen our understanding of ourselves and those around us.  But we should not forget the child’s perspective with its instinct-driven tools. Without these, we might justify ourselves into a hole from which we cannot call upon ourselves to treat others with dignity.  I think the real goal here should be to work towards wisdom.  Wisdom and cleverness are vastly different places, and cleverness is often void of the humility that wisdom offers — and it is humility that I think allows us to hold fast to the honesty of a child’s worldview but maintain a developed, adult state that knows the power of self reflection.