Thursday, March 30, 2023

A Short Treatise on Intelligence, Will, and Sensibility

Our discussion of the various modes of contact with reality reminded of an old post. However, I searched with various words and phrases for this so-called post, and nothing came up. Therefore, your luck has run out, and we'll have to redo it from scratch. 

By way of compromise, we'll just summarize it rather than going full ad nauseam. In any event, it's worth a revisit, since you and I are different people than we were back then (trolls excepted).

Recall that the three essential prerogatives constituting the human state are intelligence, sentiment, and will; or truth, virtue, and beauty. 

Each of these in turn has its own formal object, but as with the immanent Trinity, these are distinctions within a single substance, which is simply to say that the True, Good, and Beautiful converge at the toppermost of the poppermost, where, you might say, there is only O and the beatific vision of it. 

One hopes, anyway.

In the essay Prerogatives of the Human State, Schuon traces all the ins, outs, and what-have-yous of this human trinity -- entailments, prolongations, and Sphinx-like antinomies -- and comes up with this nifty formulation:

Intelligence and will when taken together constitute what we might call the "capability" of the individual, whatever his moral and aesthetic sensibility might be.

That's pretty abstract, so perhaps we should pause right there and think of a concrete example. On a scale of one to ten, can we think of someone whose intelligence and will are... we won't say ten, for reasons alluded to above -- that since the modes converge at the top, it isn't actually possible to have a great intelligence and no taste whatsoever. 

So, let's say a fellow has an above average intelligence and a will of iron. The first examples that spring to mind are all those 20th century dictators such as Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. None were stupid, but they sure had poor taste. 

I'm reminded of the The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy (

With all this power and unique knowledge, the dictator of even a small and geopolitically insignificant country should be in a position to write at least a moderately interesting book, even if by accident. And yet to a man, they almost always produce mind-numbing drivel.

Lookin' at you, Barry.

Or how about tech-tyrant doofusi such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg? From my experience, a lot of successful businessmen are like this: smart and persistent, but vulgar to the core -- the sort of person who boasts of spending thousands of dollars for front row seats to a Billy Joel concert. No amount of material wealth compensates for such aesthetic poverty.

Next up,

sensibility and will when taken together constitute the "character" of the individual, whatever his intelligence might be.

A great warrior comes to mind. But also ridiculous ones such as Mark Milley and Lloyd Austin, who are willful but stupid and tasteless. How else to explain this:


intelligence and sensibility when taken together constitute the "scope" of the individual, whatever the strength of will may be.

So, good taste and high intelligence but lacking in the will department. This reminds me of the Aphorist, whose intelligence is ten and sensibility eleven, but gave zero fucks as to whether anyone knew it.

The short morning strikes again. To be continued...


julie said...

This reminds me of the Aphorist, whose intelligence is ten and sensibility eleven, but gave zero fucks as to whether anyone knew it.

And that is why we love him.

Gagdad Bob said...

It's only by chance that the aphorisms are even out there. He had them privately printed & bound and gave copies only to friends. Thank God for the disloyal friend who leaked them! And for the selfless folks who took the time to translate them.

Gagdad Bob said...

Likewise, I think Schuon left it to Providence that his works would fall into the hands for whom they are intended.

Gagdad Bob said...

I have a dream that some enterprising graduate student will take on the One Cosmos archive for a dissertation, thus freeing me of the task.

julie said...


I think sometimes it has to work that way. It may take a disinterested party to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Gagdad Bob said...

The wife mentioned that when Tristan graduates in May and she is thus freed from home schooling, she'll help me sort it all out and separate the wheat from the chaff. She probably doesn't remember saying that -- and certainly doesn't know what she's getting into -- but I'm holding her to it!

julie said...

Does anybody really know what they're getting into? That said, I bet she'll be the best person for the job, if she decides to do it.

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm reading Neil Young's autobiography, only because I picked it up for a buck at the library sale. He is an obsessive collector who keeps every note he's ever committed to tape, and has put out a couple of major archival projects, most recently a 10 disc box covering only the years 1972-1976, which took him about ten years to put together.

Good analogy for the scope of the Summa Cosmologica, should it ever make the transition from potential to actuality.

Poppop said...

Wow - I haven't been lurking here yet 17 months -- and there is 17 years of content to absorb! Reader's Digest, o come quickly!

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