Why Do You "Intellectually Respect" Someone?

The other day I heard someone say, “I like Joe, but I don’t intellectually respect him.” Intellectual respect? Interesting concept!

Intellectually respecting someone, to me, does not mean:

a) you agree with him or her

b) you think he is as or more smart than you.

In fact, I don’t think it has anything to do with that person’s actual intellectual abilities or analytic horsepower. You earn intellectual respect by:

a) being self-aware of your mental abilities, strengths, weaknesses. In other words, if you think you’re really smart in something where I think you’re dim, then I don’t intellectually respect you.

b) engaging in a process of trying to figure stuff out in a rational, ethical, open-minded way, and rigorous (evidence-marshaling) way. It doesn’t matter if I ultimately agree or disagree, but so long as your thinking process seems sound, then respect is earned.

c) being intellectually honest. Intellectual honesty is about conceding when you’re wrong and not being stubborn when your opinion has been eclipsed by a wiser one.

Your thoughts? Are there people in your life you like but don’t intellectually respect, or vice versa?

(Hat tip to Brad Feld for helping think through this idea)

8 comments on “Why Do You "Intellectually Respect" Someone?
  • It’s simple. To intellectually respect someone means to acnowledge his ability to do something in the best way or in the better way than you do and at the time to feel uncomfortable in his presence, because of different reasons: his human qualities, his ability to shatter your self-confidence, et cetera.

  • I have an immediate intellectual respect for someone who is humble. It’s a great sign that he or she is always learning.

    I’ve learned that intellectual ability often can be inversely related to one’s serenity.

  • First, the phrase is really backward, because “intellectually respect someone” would refer to your own process of determining respect (i.e., that it is an intellectual process, as opposed to another way of determining respect).

    Second, there are two distinct kinds: “I respect Joe’s intellectual approach” is what you describe. The other is “I respect Joe’s intellectual abilities.” That’s the one you claim is not important.

    I disagree: each is important, they operate independently, and in fact each deserves respect for different reasons.

    To intellectual honesty I would add that the individual should not hold positions due to a hidden agenda, without disclosing that agenda.

  • Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, put it best:

    “It’s important to agree with people if you want them to think you are a genius. For most people, the definition of smart is ‘thinks exactly like me but even more so’.”

  • Dave — I agree with your bifurcation of the two kinds, but I did not say that the “I respect Joe’s intellectual abilities” kind is unimportant. I claimed that respecting his approach is not contingent on respecting his abilities.

  • I don’t have “intellectual respect” for someone who is cocky even though it is widely known that the individual is smart or highly successful. This is because my greatest pet peeve is to have a conversation with a person that does not appreciate the fact that every human being is in fact SMART. We are all intellects in different subjects and recognizing these differences wins my “intellectual respect” to you.

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