The term intellectualism generally designates a philosophical or theological system in which intellect or conceptualization is accorded primacy, as opposed to will or affectivity. It is sometimes used in a context of scholasticism to characterize the Thomistic synthesis as differing from that of the Franciscan and Augustinian schools. It is also applied in a pejorative sense, mainly by modern thinkers, to those philosophies that stress abstract generalization and rationalism to the exclusion of subjective and existential concerns. The following is a brief historical survey of various nuances in this usage.
greek philosophy is intellectualist in the sense that it teaches that the idea specifies and determines action. socrates and plato seem not to have believed in freedom, inasmuch as some of their followers taught that, since every moral fault results from an error, no one does evil voluntarily. Such intellectualism similarly inspires the philosophy of aristotle. All reality is intelligible, and this tenet refers to the phenomena of nature as well as to ideas in the mind. Science is placed well above the useful because it has value in and of itself. Understanding is so sovereign that one cannot possibly remove oneself from its jurisdiction. Even a universal doubt implies certitude; every denial implies an affirmation. One can criticize reason only by reason. Even the person who pretends to do without it has recourse to it; even one who scorns it gives it homage. The most important thing, then, is to think and to think well.
Somewhat the same, intellectualism is characteristic of St. thomas aquinas. Faithful to Aristotle's tradition, he improves it by indicating that God is not only necessity, but also freedom; not only thought, but also love. This is one of the ways whereby he avoids rationalism and, while stressing the primary of the intellect, also teaches the ontological importance of the will, freedom, and mysticism.
Traces of this intellectualism are encountered also in the modern era. In the 17th century, philosophers are concerned especially about the truth and the means of attaining it. Some have recourse to a method of observation, others to a metaphysical method. As usually employed, however, both of these methods are ultimately reducible to the mathematical method, which, used in the context of physics, can possibly claim a necessity that, in fact, nature does not have. From this there arises a twofold intellectualistic current: that of empiricism, which becomes positivism in the 19th century—it is represented by F. bacon, J. locke, D. hume, A. comte, and H. spencer. The second is that of the idealism—of R. descartes,N. malebranche, B. spinoza, G. W. leibniz, J. G. fichte, F. schelling, and G. W. F. hegel. For both groups, man's value and power are specified by his nonsubjective or objective knowledge, a necessitating knowledge that, by reason of inflexibility in method, suppresses freedom in almost every case.
What should one say in criticism of intellectualism? It is difficult not to recognize its importance and value. Blind action is impotent; a life whose meaning is not perceived becomes evil. The sage who discovers the laws of nature is a great benefactor, and He who reveals God to us is the Savior. But intellectualism exposes one to the danger of rationalism and determinism; being is not only necessary and intelligible, but also dynamic. If thought is sovereign because it is immanent and can think itself, the will, too, can will itself and is, thereby, autonomous and free. One is first in the order of truth, the other in the order of the good; their correlation produces their mutual value.
See Also: existentialism; irrationalism; voluntarism.
Bibliography: j. w. miller, The Structure of Aristotelian Logic (London 1938). p. rousselot, The Intellectualism of Saint Thomas, tr. j. e. o'mahony (New York 1935). a. g. sertillanges, St. Thomas Aquinas and His Work, tr. g. anstruther (London 1933; repr. 1957). j. laporte, Le Rationalisme de Descartes (Paris 1945). v. mathieu, Enciclopedia filosofica 2:1457–60 (Venice-Rome 1957). r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philsophischen Begriffe, 1:759 (4th ed. Berlin 1927–30).
"Intellectualism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/intellectualism
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