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Practical and Intellectual Understanding:

Posted by khuram on August 23, 2006

Practical and Intellectual Understanding:

To develop a proper understanding of the nature of overall present situation or about any fact or issue etc. requires the complete analysis of the issue/ situation from the maximum possible angles. We can, however, understand what the situation is and what actions are needed to be performed under such a situation, without doing the proper and detailed analysis of the situation.

To understand the nature of the situation means to understand why the situation is in present particular form – why not in some other form etc. that is, if we have to understand the factors due to which the situation in question has a particular form and nature, then we have to analyze all the related factors and may be including a complete inquiry into the historical developments of that situation.

For example, for our simple routine matters, we can understand, without studying the related historical records and developments that, for certain action that we need to be performed, we can hire labor workers etc. for our purpose. This is the practical understanding of the situation. This type of understanding does not require proper analysis of, lets say, the historical developments of the related course of events. A little know how of the of even the limited related history would be sufficient in this case.

Apart from this ‘practical understanding’, there is another kind of understanding that may be called as ‘intellectual understanding’. This is to understand the ‘nature’ of the situation in question. We have to find out the answers to such questions as ‘why’ to hire labor workers, why not to perform the task by ourselves, or why not to ‘purchase’ a slave on permanent basis in order to perform such tasks. Or if we have to hire the labor workers on certain terms and conditions – what is the nature of those terms and conditions, just how those terms and conditions have been evolved. What were the factors behind it? Or why humans need other humans for doing work for them or that why humans willingly or un-willingly do work for other humans? etc. etc.

These types of questions, for the most part, have nothing to do with the practical aspects of the situation. These questions are not to be handled by the practical wisdom. The practical understanding is the result of the application of the practical wisdom.

The practical wisdom tells what to do in a given situation and the practical understanding is the resultant understanding of such a situation, which is derived out of the application of practical wisdom. Practical wisdom is restricted up to the drawing of a practical conclusion and finding out what else is needed for the practical performance. Whereas the intellectual understanding is the overall understanding or knowledge of that situation. The sort of questions as discussed before, that form the basis of intellectual understanding seem to be forbidden in pragmatism philosophy because in pragmatism, only the practical wisdom is what humans should use. These types of questions are outside the scope of ‘practical wisdom’.

It should be noted, however that these questions are not useless at all. These questions are practically useless for the sake of the formation of practical understanding of only the present situation. The answers to these questions, however, can be taken up by the practical wisdom at some later stage, for the sake of some other practical situation, as input information. Actually this is the concept of ‘complex practical wisdom’, which is involved in this case.

Initially, these questions are to be answered, not for the sake of practical reasons but for the sake of the development of ‘intellectual understanding’ of the overall related issues i.e. this understanding is not restricted just to the present situation.

In order to develop this ‘intellectual understanding’, we have to find the answers to these questions and for this purpose, we have to properly analyze all the related issues and may be including the inquiry into the historical stages of developments of the issue in question. In fact we have to inquire about the underlying reasons of the existing phenomenon. Having formed the understanding of the ‘underlying reason’ means that the ‘intellectual understanding’ of the issue has been formed. This point can be explained with the help of example. For example, ‘practical understanding’ of the Newton’s second law of motion can be formed by just understanding the meanings of formula i.e. ‘f = ma’ and solving some related numerical problems supported by some practical experimentation etc. Let us emphasize that the ‘understanding’ that shall be developed in this way cannot be termed as ‘intellectual understanding’. By just understanding the ‘meanings’ of the formula, then solving some related numerical problems and then by practically applying the understanding – all these activities can be covered under the concept of ‘practical understanding’. Let us further emphasize that this ‘practical understanding’, how much rigorous and sophisticated it may be, is not the ultimate form of understanding. What we understand in this way only includes understanding of the established meanings of this physical law and how this law should or can be practically applied. This type of understanding tells us nothing about the underlying reasons that led to the development of this law of Physics by Newton. By having no understanding of the underlying reasons and by just having the ‘practical understanding’, we at the most, can practically apply this already known principle and we cannot discover 4th or 5th or 6th law of motion by ourselves. To discover new laws of motion, however can become possible after when we acquire the understanding of the underlying reasons that led Newton in the formation of his laws of motion. It was ‘intellectual understanding’ of Newton that led him in the formation of his laws of motion, and it again shall be this ‘intellectual understanding’ that shall make it possible for someone else to discover new laws of motion. So not the ‘practical understanding’ but the ‘intellectual understanding’ is the one that can be considered to be the ultimate form of understanding.

The ‘intellectual understanding’ formed in this manner, can then, also be practically applied using the ‘complex practical wisdom’ or in the form of practical manifestation of knowledge. But the intended purpose of the ‘intellectual understanding’ is not always its practical application. This type of understanding also gives guideline for our macro level strategies.

Intellectual understanding gives insight into the related issues and this is a well-defined boundary line between a well literate person and an ordinary practical person. Here ‘well literate person’ may not be ‘educated’ also. Akber, the emperor of India, was well literate person but was quite un-educated. In the same way, an ordinary practical person may not necessarily be only an un-educated one, because in this context, an educated person can also be treated as an ordinary person if he, in his normal course of taking decisions, relies heavily only on simple practical wisdom.

So the distinction between a ‘well literate person’ and an ‘ordinary person’ lies in the difference in the type of understanding that both persons possess. A ‘well literate person’ possesses the ‘intellectual understanding’ whereas an ‘ordinary person’ possesses the ‘practical understanding’ only.

A ‘well literate person’ is not balanced in his approach if he never uses ordinary practical wisdom. He is balanced in his approach only when he keeps both types of understandings i.e. ‘intellectual understanding’ as well as ‘practical understanding’. If this person does not keep or use practical understanding, along with intellectual understanding, then practically he may be cut off from rest of society, due to his own imbalanced approach. And in this case, this ‘imbalanced’ approach shall be treated to be ‘abnormal’ approach by the society.

In the example given in this discussion the ordinary approach is just to know that we need to hire labor workers for the performance of our task. To keep only this approach is not imbalanced or abnormal. But to keep only this approach means to have just an ordinary approach.

The imbalanced intellectual approach in this example is only to try to know or to know the answers to the questions, which are mentioned in the example e.g. why to use labor, why humans work for other humans etc. In this ‘imbalanced’ approach, our intellectual person does not suggest, “we need to hire labor workers for the performance of our task.” This is a pure intellectual approach but is not suitable in a realistic and practical minded society. This approach, for example, was suitable in the ancient Greek society. In present day societies, this approach not only is considered to be ‘imbalanced’ approach, it is also considered to be ‘abnormal approach’.

This type of ‘pure intellectual’ approach is also non-professional in nature, because of having no practical application.

The ‘balanced intellectual approach’ in the example given in this discussion is not only to ask and find answers to those questions but also to practically apply the knowledge, so acquired, using not only the complex practical wisdom but by using the simple practical wisdom as well. This approach may also be considered to be highly professional approach.

The best approach identified in this discussion is the ‘balanced intellectual approach’, which is also the ‘highly professional approach’. This approach certainly requires analysis of the situation from maximum possible angles and the analysis of related history is one very important part of this analytical activity. Balanced intellectual approach gives ‘intellectual understanding’ as well as ‘practical understanding’. It means that this approach gives ‘overall understanding’. And this overall understanding is possible to be developed only through proper analytical activities.

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