We explain what it means for something to be intellectual, in what contexts the term is used and what intellect is. Also, the intellectuals.

A monument commemorates the intellectual José Martí in the Central Park of Havana.
Intellectuals are artists, philosophers, politicians, teachers and even popularizers.

What does intellectual mean?

The intellectual is that related to the intellect, that is, to logical thinking and reason, but also with study, reflection and understanding. It is a word from Latin, composed of the voices inter (“between and lectus (“read”), that is, “proper to those who read.”

The term “intellectual” can be used in different contexts, but always with the same meaning: that of what refers to literature, deep reflections and study, activities traditionally considered “intellectual”, that is, typical of the intellect. Hence, we often speak of “the intellectuality” to refer to the group of thinkers and scholars of a nation (“the French intelligentsia“), of a political group (“the intellectuality of the party“) or an ideological movement (“the conservative intelligentsia“).

Likewise, it is common to speak of “intellectual exercises” to refer to meditations or dissertations, generally written; of “intellectual labor” or “intellectual work” to refer to the time invested in producing said exercises; and “intellectual property” for the rights that protect the authorship of a work of art or thought.

However, this adjective It is also used in the medical field to name mental abilities (“IQ”) or brain conditions that make thinking difficult (“intellectual retardation,” for example). It is possible that, in certain contexts, the term has ironic or even derogatory connotations.

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Who are the intellectuals?

Intellectuals, sometimes referred to as “the intelligentsia” or “the intelligentsia“, are those sectors of society that are dedicated to the production of works of thought, that is, to reflection on reality. The term covers artists, philosophers, politicians, teachers and even popularizers who play an important role in the construction of the thought of a country, a social sector or a political group.

There are intellectuals of all religious affiliations and political tendencies, as long as they play in their respective social groups. role of creating opinions, reflecting innovatively and/or transforming social structures through the word (spoken or written).

For this reason, intellectuals are not usually considered as people of action (although there are exceptions), but rather as individuals who can look at society from a critical distance. In fact, the Palestinian thinker and essayist Edward Said (1935-2003) defined them as “intruders” (outsiders) who live “…in a self-imposed exile, on the margins of society.”

Some examples of intellectuals are: the Cuban José Martí, the Venezuelan Andrés Bello, the French Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre, the Germans Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx, the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, the British Virginia Woolf, the Romanian Emil Cioran, among many others.

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  • “Intellectual” in the Language Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Radicación de Intelectual” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “Intellectual” in The Britannica Dictionary.