Would You Rather Be Smart Or Good?

That’s a question I used to ask people way back in undergrad. It seemed to me that these two things were in conflict; that it’s hard for both to exist in a person at the same time.

And, at the time, I guess I chose smart. (But I wanted both!)

Well, the years have rolled on. I don’t know if these two things are in conflict. Someone else will have to answer that. And I don’t aspire to be incredibly smart anymore. Instead, I aim to be wise. 

Counseling, which I do recommend for just about everyone, has helped me with that. 

Phenomenologically, there seemed to be a split in my very self. It was a separation between what we call the cognitive aspect of me and the emotional aspect of me. The cognitive was overdeveloped. While the emotional was stunted. So, I grew up and lived bent and broken; not a whole, intact self, but a fractured self.

Through counseling, I’ve come to be more in tune with my emotional senses. And this has lead to radical changes in me. Of course, cognitively and in theory, I appreciated the emotions. But that doesn’t mean I put it into practice.

And, these days, I feel more whole. I think there really is a sense in which some people who are bad or evil are broken in some way inside. And tons of people, I’ve found, walk around this way.

Would you rather be smart or good? That may be a false dilemma. It all depends on how our psychology is; how our characters may be structured.

But I take it that the overdevelopment of my cognitive self and the underdevelopment of my emotional self is what was the problem.

Ancient western philosophers, who I know more about than other traditions, must have been not only intelligent, but wise. They must have lived and experienced things. They must have had “insights.”

Unfortunately, some aspects of contemporary philosophy have stressed mere smartness. We come up young, sometimes with very little life experiences, and develop the cognitive aspects of ourselves, playing around with logic problems and exercising that.

I want to bring back–if it was ever there–the philosopher as a sage; the philosopher as wise. This doesn’t have to hokey. And, if you think being sage and wise is hokey, I have to wonder about your biases.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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