Are We a Generation of Smart Fools?

What types of intelligence do people really need?

Posted Dec 06, 2017

Will a high IQ make you successful? Probably not.

In a recent Association of Psychological Science award address, psychologist Robert Sternberg suggested that basic intelligence, as reflected in IQ scores, has increased over the past decades. However, that these gains aren’t paying off.

Sternberg, who argues that there are multiple forms of intelligence, suggests that basic intelligence needs to be combined with practical intelligence (common sense) in order to prevent people from becoming “smart fools.”

“A lot of people with high IQs are especially susceptible to foolishness because they think they’re not; they are smart fools,” says Sternberg.

Sternberg argues that practical intelligence leads to wisdom; seeing the impact of your actions on the greater good. Smart fools are susceptible to following toxic leaders, and they are effective at doing the leader’s bidding because of their intelligence. However, they and their toxic leaders flourish but others suffer.

Another way to look at this is that intelligent individuals who lack basic virtues are these smart fools. Without virtues such as prudence/wisdom (the ability to see the many sides of an issue or argument), smart fools can work toward destructive ends. Another important virtue is temperance: controlling one’s passions. We can see the impact of lack of temperance in the sexual harassment scandals of powerful men in government, business, and entertainment. No doubt about it, these are smart, successful men who, because of their lack of virtue, are smart fools.

Here is the link to the article about Sternberg’s talk and here is a link to a post on virtues.​