An All Too Common Confusion

by Jason Stotts

I often hear people make a silly and obvious equivocation between two terms that mean drastically different things: namely Intelligence and Knowledge. I think though, that we must do as The Philosopher suggests, and start with that which is first.

Intelligence is a capacity (potentiality) for thinking and reasoning, analogous to a motor.

Knowledge is having actual understanding of facts and theories; it is basically justified true belief, analogous to fuel.

Now, when one calls someone “Intelligent” one means that the person in question is good at using their mind for thinking and reasoning.

When one calls someone “Knowledgeable” one means that the person in question knows a lot of (true) facts and theories.

Now, the Intelligence and Knowledge work together as do motors and fuel – the motor needs fuel in order to operate. (Although in this analogy the “motor” can run on other kinds of “fuel”.) Thus the two terms are often used together, although they mean different things.

It is from this intimate connection that the problem arises and although the two terms are intimately connected they are not the same thing.

One could be knowledgeable without being intelligent (i.e. know a lot about sports).

One could also be intelligent without being knowledgeable (i.e. a smart child or a intelligent adult ignorant of a specific subject).

So, next time you talk about someone being knowledgeable or intelligent, take a moment to think about the difference between the two and use the right term!

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