Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno: Intelligence Is a Moral CategoryJune 28, 2021
In the West the idea of ”holy fool”; It has a long history, going back to the days when Paul used it in his letter to the Corinthians when he asked his followers to “become fools for Christ’s sake.”
During the Middle Ages this idea became a popular culture figure, and the term began to refer to saints or sages who were somewhat stupid or mentally retarded, but morally good and pure.
The German philosopher Theodor Adorno questions this ancient tradition in his book “Minima Moralia”. He is skeptical of attempts to “excuse and canonize fools,” he writes in his book, and wants to create a situation in which goodness encompasses both our feelings and our understanding. The problem with the idea of the holy fool, according to Adorno, is that it divides us into two different parts and in doing so prevents us from acting rationally. In reality, reasoning is measured by how coherent we can make our feeling and understanding. From Adorno’s point of view, bad actions are failures of not only emotions but also intelligence and understanding.
Adorno is a member of the Frankfurt School, a group of philosophers interested in the development of capitalism. He accuses forms of mass media, such as television and radio, as causing erosion of both intelligence and emotion, and a decline in the ability to make moral choices and judgments. If we choose to turn off our brains by watching blockbuster movies (to the extent that we can choose, given the cultural context in which we live), it is a moral choice, according to Adorno. He believes that popular culture not only makes us stupid, but also prevents us from acting morally.
Intelligence and emotion are necessary for humans to make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. In other words, we need to be able to use our intelligence as well as our emotions in order to behave morally. Therefore, intelligence is a moral category.
Adorno believes that as opposed to imagining that there could be such a thing as a holy fool, a similar mistake is to imagine that we can only reason with our intellect, without our emotions. This may occur in a court of law; It is known that the judges ask the jury to put all their emotions aside, because it is thought that only so can they reach a calm and measured decision. But in Adorno’s view, we can no longer make wiser decisions than we make by letting go of our emotions and our intellect.
Adorno writes that the idea that once the last bit of emotion has been removed from our thoughts, we will have nothing to think about and that intelligence will benefit from the “depletion of emotions” is completely wrong. For this reason, he believes that science, which is a type of knowledge that does not refer to our emotions, has a devastating effect on us, just like popular culture. Unexpectedly, it may be the sciences that will eventually justify Adorno’s concerns about the separation of intelligence and emotion. Since the 1990s, scientists such as Antonio Damasio have studied emotions and the brain, finding a growing body of evidence that there are many decision-making mechanisms guided by emotions. Therefore, if we are to make wise decisions, or even just to make decisions, we must exercise our emotions and our intellect at the same time.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook