Knowledge vs. Intelligence vs. Wisdom

Knowledge = The leaves of books turned

Intelligence = The mind to reason and learn

Wisdom = The vision to discern

When I stop to ask myself why I select the word “smart” – over so many other more specific word choices – to describe a person, I have to consider what exactly smart means. Am I implying that this individual is well-educated (i.e. knowledgeable), or gifted with powerful reasoning and problem-solving abilities (i.e. intelligent), or insightful (i.e. wise)? Do I only call a person “smart” who possesses all three qualities? What is smartness?


 a. Having or showing intelligence; bright. See Synonyms at intelligent.
 b. Canny and shrewd in dealings with others: smart negotiator.

 a. Amusingly clever; witty: smart quip; a lively, smart conversation.

Taken from


The definition here seems to be primarily describing intelligence. If smart = intelligent, is it possible, then, to be smart but not knowledgeable?

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

Sadly, it is common for people to be dismissed as unintelligent because they appear to lack cultural knowledge, or they had a poor-quality childhood education, or have had limited life experience. They don’t present as knowledgeable or well-read, so they get labeled (verbally or silently) as “dumb”.

And yet, it’s possible (and probable) that these same people are also highly intelligent.

If knowledge is “book smarts”, and intelligence is “brightness”, what is wisdom?


1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, 
or lasting; insight.

2. Common sense; good judgment: "It is a characteristic of 
wisdom not to do desperate things" (Henry DavidThoreau).

Taken from

Wisdom, then, is insight and vision.

Photo by Damir Bosnjak on Unsplash

I think it’s tougher to self-assess whether you have wisdom than it is to gauge whether or not you’re well-read, or whether you’re skilled at reasoning and problem-solving. Wisdom is something you rarely know you have, if and when you have it. And, IMHO, it’s also the kind of thing many people lacking wisdom seem to think they have. Kind of the way it is with humility. 🙂 If you’re humble and you know it, then….

Contextual Intelligence

girl covering eyes with glove-covered hands

Throughout your life, have you identified someone (or been identified) as “dumb”, “stupid”, or some other adjective or insulting name that implied the same? Why did someone label you that way? Or why did you label that person the way you did?

In such a situation, the following logic flaw is often implicated:

The offensive/judging party is fixated on a certain form of intelligence (a contextual or scene-appropriate intelligence), and makes a subjective (or partially quantitative) assessment that this individual (perhaps you) does not meet up to the definition of “intelligent” within that sphere.

Maybe in school, your classmate accused you of being “dumb”, based on your performance on a test. However, since your contextual intelligence (your apparent intelligence in that area of study based on your performance that particular day) was all they had with which to evaluate you, they assigned you the sweeping assessment of “unintelligent”. He/she equated your (supposed) contextual intelligence with your entire quota of intelligence as a person.

Sadly, contextual intelligence is often our go-to source for determining the intelligence level of another (because we like to peg and classify people, don’t we? To interact with the unknown [in this case, a person who’s not obviously “smart” or obviously “dumb” by popular forms of measurement] makes many people uncomfortable).

When we do this, what we are really saying is either that a person possesses form(s) of intelligence that we recognize, or that the person has intelligence forms that we cannot identify or perceive.

Different Forms of Intelligence

Photo by Trevor Paterson on Unsplash

Are you agile yet strong? Flexible and graceful?

Do you have perfect pitch?

Do you read people well, or feel what they’re feeling?

Are you skilled at understanding mechanical systems or visualizing images in your head, or accurately guessing the amount of storage space required for a pile of stuff?

Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Unsplash

If so, then you have kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and/or spatial intelligence, respectively.

There are many schools of thought regarding intelligence. There’s the Multiple Intelligences Theory (technically a hypothesis) proposed by Howard Gardner in his book: Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which acknowledges musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic abilities all as forms of intelligence.

Person playing guitar

Additional forms of intelligence (somewhat overlapping with Multiple Intelligences) are those of IQ and EQ or essentially, academic/verbal/spatial/logical intelligence and emotional/social/empathic (interpersonal and perhaps intrapersonal) intelligence. Many people score high on both of these “quotient” tests, and others’ scores suggest that they may be particularly gifted in one area or the other.

However, as with any test, these scores should not be viewed as definitive assessments of a human’s intelligence – or even as accurate reflections of ability in the measured areas. A highly intelligent person may “flunk” the IQ or EQ assessments for many possible reasons. Some people just struggle with tests in general, because of the pressure or anxiety that tests can elicit, and consequently, they underperform despite their ability in the area being examined.

I will end this piece with a question: If you had to choose between being knowledgeable, intelligent, or wise (and could only choose one quality), what would you choose, and why?

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

(…Isn’t that beautiful?…)


© 2017 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved

9 thoughts on “Knowledge vs. Intelligence vs. Wisdom

  1. Great thoughts. The true definition of education has changed. The worst thing is, all of us know about it but nobody wants to change it. I’m happy that I don’t follow the herd. It’s hard but fun.
    Thanks and live well.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. A Chicken

    I feel like the closing prompt is weighted into a foregone conclusion. It would just be so *unwise* to pick a quality other than wisdom 😀

    I enjoy the Multiple Intelligences theory. “Intelligence” is so poorly defined and perceived that the word is damn near meaningless to me. Supercomputers can’t handle the calculations required in the sequence of muscle contractions and interpretation and application of sensory data performed in the act of brushing one’s teeth. To condense and unidimensionalize (ha-haa nice word invention!) the full suite of functions and skills the brain and body execute is just so ridiculous to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unidimensionalize – what a fantabulous word!! And perfect for the context. 🙂

      I think it’s sort of in our nature to want to label and limit things to the point of what is understandable/conceivable. It is almost too much for our brains to imagine that one brain – one human – alone could possess many abilities – could be “intelligent” or “smart” in multiple ways. And when we discover someone who is “obviously” talented/smart/gifted in multiple arenas, we elevate them to sort of a god-level, rather than thinking to ourselves, “this is really what most/all people are like, it’s just that this particular person has cultivated their abilities more, or their abilities and ‘intellect’ happen to be more evident than those of others.”


      1. A Chicken

        Thank you for accepting and matching my licentiousness with the English language 🙂

        Indeed, interest in the concept of IQ has always been high. I believe it’s derived from a combination of humanity’s interests in rankings, as well as the internal comfort that a static, simple view of self and others brings to most.

        Some Roman general once said that soldiers don’t wish to follow a leader who’s not of noble birth. I agree that people seem to have a desire to elevate, separate, and transcend those who have achieved stardom or public greatness.

        Liked by 1 person

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