The Paltriness Of The Normal
Human Intellect

"How very paltry and limited the normal human intellect is, and how little lucidity there is in the human conciousness, may be judged from the fact that, despite the ephemeral brevity of human life, the uncertainty of our existence and the countless enigmas which press upon us from all sides, everyone does not continually and ceaselessly philosophize, but that only the rarest of exceptions do."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena

Might it be more a blessing than a curse to philosophy that everyone does not "ceaselessly philosophize"? Is the capacity for philosophizing the chief criterion by which to judge human intelligence? Can the paltriness Schopenhauer speaks of be ascribed more to the necessity of earning a living and rearing a family than to any inherent intellectual limitation?

How much, by the way, has reflective thought availed humanity? This question might seem obtuse: we are accustomed to believing that every increase in consciousness is a step along the path of "progress," and that the free exercise of the intellect is inherently good. Human intelligence, after all, has left posterity with art and music and mathematics, with ready antidotes to superstition, and with a rich stream of insights into nature and the cosmos. The following lines from Will Durant, however, complicate any facile celebration of sophisticated thought, and perhaps counterbalance Schopenhauer's own lament:

"This, then, is the final triumph of thought -- that it disintegrates all societies, and at last destroys the thinker himself. Perhaps the invention of thought was one of the cardinal errors of mankind. For first, thought undermined morality by shearing it of its supernatural sanctions and sanctity, and revealing it as a social utility designed to save policemen; and a morality without God is as weak as a traffic law when the policeman is on foot. Second, thought undermined society by separating sex from parentage, removing the penalty from promiscuity, and liberating the individual from the race; now only the ignorant transmit their kind. Finally it undermined the thinker by revealing to him, in astronomy and geology, biology and history, a panorama in which he saw himself as an insignificant fragment in space and a flickering moment in time; it took from him his belief in his own will and future, left his fate nude of nobility and grandeur, and weakened him into despondency and surrender."