Monday, November 23, 2009

Spiritual vs intellectual

"Avatar" answering the question "should one distinguish between spiritual and intellectual...?"

It seems intelligence and spirit have fundamentally the same meaning: one speaks without distinction of human intelligence and human spirit... intelligence signifying what proceeds from human intelligence, and spiritual what comes from the human spirit.

From this objective consideration, and as is often the case when there are two synonymous terms, other meanings have been superimposed. We say intellectual, for example, when we wish to say non-manual, or university professor, or abstract, or someone whose feet are not grounded in reality, or even “mind-aching” (prise de tĂȘte). The same diversity exists with the word spiritual, which sometimes means humorous, or religious (this last term is in my view a quite equivocal falsehood), or even divine (“Gods” spirit), to distinguish between divine intelligence and human intelligence, etc.

As far as the distinction made by editors in their “Spirituality” collection, we have here, I think, a mistranslation (which I pointed out) between spiritual and religious. Yet, fundamentally, there is synonymity. I see here on the one hand a type of marketing gimmick which seeks a label which does not ruffle anyones feathers; on the other hand, one must recognize that these collections include everything and its opposite: religious considerations, psychoanalysis, astrology, clairvoyance, and what have you... Therefore, they include what purports to be a rather speculative reflection, which happens to correspond to the first sense of “intellectual”.

I think the term intellectual is not used solely because the connotation is sometimes pejorative or mocking in nature; the same is true for the term “speculation”, which would turn away the clients who claim to be non-intellectual and pragmatic, concrete, with their feet solidly anchored in the ground! Hence “spiritual” is much more consensual, and in any case the term is gratifying. In short, “spiritual” signifies astute and clever, whereas “intellectual” can signify pretentious and pain-in-the-neck, which is evidently not the best pitch.

In brief, spiritual sounds “authentic” whereas intellectual has undertones of “concepts” or “ravings”. It is a bit foolish, but I think that is why it is so; a bit as why red and yellow are associated to biscuits, and why few of them are sold in a blue package. :-)


  1. Awesome post! People tend to use symbolic substitutes for both words. To me, these terms can be mutually exclusive or jointly exhaustive. It just depends on who is using them. To overcome apparent ambiguity of these words, however, one can consider their expediency in relation to the human mind. Besides, humans are fond of labeling things in a heirarchical order so we can do just that. If you will agree, the increasing order will appear like this: physical reality, instinctive mind, intellectual mind, intuition, spiritual mind, and spirit. From an idealistic perspective, you'll see that the "spiritual" mind falls in a higher rank compared to the "intellectual." Nonetheless, both are still part of the impartial aspect of the individual. All of them are at different levels of development for each person and, therefore, cannot be characteristically removed or be used to identify anyone. Anyway, I don't think anybody really cares about that except people like us, so please forget everything I just said. lol. I really enjoyed reading your article. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you for clarifying the meaning of these 2 words. In fact, my perception of them has changed from today!

  3. Ryhen,
    Glad you liked the post. Interesting distinction! :) -in case it is not clear, I am just the translator of these musings (Harvey).

    It clarified things for me also :)

  4. I think this is a non question. Terms to describe either concept are going to confuse the issue. It isn't a question of apples and oranges, more like apples and footballs. The best, i. e. simplest way to describe them is breathing in and breathing out.


  5. Nice to see you DB. Does one also find spirituality collection in bookstores in the US? Me memory fails. :)