The Sociologist’s Digressions (SD3)
By: Dr Hichem Karoui
What exactly is Reason? Is it different from intelligence? How might we define Reason and Intelligence in the modern day? Did modern definitions differ from those developed by Greek philosophers? How has our view of Reason and Intelligence changed over time?
For millennia, the ideas of “reason” and “intelligence” have been the focus of philosophical and scientific research, and their definitions have varied with time. Understanding these ideas in the context of both historical and modern thought can provide a more nuanced view, particularly when contemplating their implications in social sciences, psychology, and artificial intelligence.
Reason and intelligence are often used interchangeably, but are they really the same? Here, we will explore the definitions of reason and intelligence, how they have evolved over time, and whether modern definitions differ from those that emerged with the Greek philosophers.
What is Reason?
Reason has its origins in ancient Greek philosophy when it was frequently linked with “logos,” which means both “word” and “rationality.” Plato and Aristotle, for example, saw reason as the highest human faculty capable of discernment of the eternal truths and moral laws that rule the cosmos.
Reason is now commonly defined as the cognitive ability to think logically, make judgements, and solve issues through reasonable and critical thinking. It is frequently related to the scientific method, which draws conclusions based on empirical facts and logical reasoning.
What exactly is intelligence?
The ancient Greeks also had a concept of intelligence, but it was frequently associated with wisdom and moral values. Intelligence was not just cognitive; it was also ethical.
In modern psychology, IQ tests frequently measure intelligence, which assesses various cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, logical reasoning, and memory. However, this is a limited perspective. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes that intelligence is not a single, unified skill but a collection of many types, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, and emotional intelligence.
Defining Reason and Intelligence
Therefore, Reason can be defined as the mental ability to think logically, make judgments, and draw conclusions based on evidence and facts. It involves the use of rationality and critical thinking to solve problems and make decisions. On the other hand, intelligence refers to the overall cognitive ability of an individual, including their capacity to learn, understand, and apply knowledge.
Evolution of Reason and Intelligence
With the emergence of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, reason and intelligence were highly valued. The Greeks believed that reason was the highest form of human virtue and that it should be cultivated through education and philosophical inquiry. They saw reason as the means to understand the world and find truth.
During the Middle Ages, Reason was often suppressed in favour of religious beliefs. However, with the advent of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, Reason once again took centre stage. Philosophers like René Descartes and Immanuel Kant emphasised the importance of reason in understanding the world and the human mind.
As science and psychology progressed, new theories of intelligence emerged. Psychologist Alfred Binet developed the concept of IQ (intelligence quotient) in the early 20th century, which aimed to measure a person’s intellectual potential. However, this narrow definition of intelligence was later criticized for neglecting other important aspects, such as emotional intelligence and creativity.
Distinguishing Reason from Intelligence
Reason can be defined as a cognitive capacity primarily concerned with logical thinking and problem-solving. On the other hand, intelligence is a comprehensive term encompassing many mental, emotional, and even ethical abilities. When it comes to measurement, intelligence often lends itself to quantification through standardised tests. In contrast, reason is more nuanced and qualitative, typically evaluated based on the quality of one’s judgements and the soundness of their conclusions. Intelligence is versatile across various domains, from mathematical prowess to adeptness in interpersonal relationships. In contrast, reason finds its typical application in problem-solving and decision-making, rooted in applying logical principles.
Modern Definitions of Reason and Intelligence
In modern times, reason is still considered a fundamental aspect of human cognition. It is seen as the ability to think critically, analyse information, and make sound judgments. Reason is valued in fields such as philosophy, science, and law, where logical thinking and rationality are essential.
On the other hand, our understanding of intelligence has evolved to encompass a broader range of abilities. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences suggests that there are different types of intelligence, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence.
Evolution of Understanding
- Separation of Ethics and Cognition: Ancient definitions often combine ethical and cognitive aspects, while modern definitions tend to separate them.
- Scientific Understanding: Advances in neuroscience and psychology have provided empirical methods to study and measure intelligence, which was more abstract in ancient times.
- Inclusion of Emotional and Social Intelligence: Modern theories recognise that intelligence is not solely cognitive but includes emotional and social aspects.
- Artificial Intelligence: The rise of AI has also forced us to reconsider what we mean by intelligence, as machines become increasingly capable of tasks that were once considered the exclusive domain of human intelligence.
Reason and intelligence are distinct but interconnected concepts. Reason involves the ability to think logically and make judgments based on evidence, while intelligence encompasses a broader range of cognitive abilities. Throughout history, our understanding of both reason and intelligence has evolved, influenced by the beliefs and theories of different cultures and eras. While they share similarities, such as their role in problem-solving and decision-making, they are distinct in their scope, application, and measurability. Understanding these nuances is crucial, especially in the realms of social science research, psychology, and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence. Today, reason is still highly valued, and intelligence is seen as a multifaceted concept. As we continue to explore the depths of the human mind, our understanding of reason and intelligence will likely continue to evolve.
- Plato. “The Republic.” Translated by G. M. A. Grube, Hackett Publishing, 1992.
- Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.” Translated by W. D. Ross, Oxford University Press, 2009.
- Gardner, Howard. “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Basic Books, 1983.
- Kahneman, Daniel. “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.