I've discovered two subsets of the set of all people. I do they think are well defined, meaning that every element in the set of all people can be categorised as belonging to either one of the two sets. One must bear in mind that this isn't the only way to clarify people. One set is defined as the set of all people who adopt 'typical' mindsets. A typical mindset is the mindset behind actions which are based on a simplistic understanding of the individual themself and the world around them. They do not concern themselves much with figuring out a model for how they are and the world around them is. They just work hard and their tastes aren't carefully and selectively chosen and encouraged. Let's call this set the set of all typicals, or the typical set. The other set is the set of all individuals who act, if at all they do, on more complex, nonlinear models of themselves and the world. The models involved are not necessarily more accurate descriptions, just more complex. Let's call this set the set of all intellectuals, or the intellectual set.

Which attitude towards life is more fulfilling, the typical, or the intellectual?

In other words, people belonging to which of the two sets, on average, lead more fulfilling lives? Fulfilling does not necessarily imply happier too.

What is your opinion and justifications for it?

  • Your view of 'typical' people is very misguided. Can you provide any primary evidence that some subset of all people actually are this way? If you take any higher level anthropology/sociology/psychology classes you'll realize that even the people you believe to be just drones mindlessly going about their waking lives actually have just as complex of feelings, opinions, preferences, etc. as anyone else. Most of the time, when people don't take the time to think about 'bigger questions' its because they literally have to work all day to survive so they have no time to question things.
    – Not_Here
    Jun 14 '17 at 13:06
  • I agree with your characterisation of 'typical' people. They either don't have the time or temperament to tackle the 'bigger' questions. I'm not making any judgement. Going by your characterisation, my question finds itself restated as whether it's better to not have time to think or not. And why.
    – user45959
    Jun 14 '17 at 13:11
  • 3
    "I've discovered two subsets of the set of all people" ????? Jun 14 '17 at 13:34
  • I'll bet every time members of your "typical" class attempt to formulate a model of themselves and the world around them, they just end up concocting an exercise of thinly veiled self-flattery where they perceive themselves to be a member of a loosely defined superior class that separates them from the rest of the population. Jun 14 '17 at 17:00
  • I don't think that's necessary.
    – user45959
    Jun 14 '17 at 17:05

There seems to be some limited evidence that your second group lead more fulfilling lives. This meta analysis paper ultimately tests thousands of people on various metrics of happiness and intelligence and the authors conclude that the more intelligent (I'm vaguely linking intelligence with your second group) are marginally more happy by the various metrics included in the papers.

In essence leading a fulfilling life requires that opportunities for fulfilment arise, and that you make a successful plan to obtain them. The first will affect the first and second groups at random, being mediated by socio-economic group, and luck. So the second is the only factor that your modelling behaviour can affect. The paper seems to support the theory that reaching fulfilment is sufficiently complex that extracting it from the opportunities that arise via a carefully thought out plan is only marginally more likely to work than just "winging it".

From an evolutionary perspective, of course, it could be that our intuitions hold more information about how to achieve fulfilment that we give them credit for and so planning and modelling could undermine latent strategies for fulfilment that would otherwise emerge without the "clutter" of all that planning. Many papers, this one for example, link happiness with remnants of our ancestral needs. Personally, however, I see it as unlikely that we would be able to extract out ancestral needs from a very different modern society without a little planning.

The anthropologist Clive Finlayson divides early humans into "Innovators" and "Conservatives", which I think matches your two groups well. The conservatives benefit from the low calorie requirements of simply copying others in their day-to-day choices, thereby not having to waste time and effort modelling the world and constructing solutions to problems that have already been solved. They lose out, however, if the environment changes and their solutions no longer work. They also lose out if they're in too large a group as the effect of "Chinese whispers" renders some of their copied solutions flawed. The innovators have to contend with the consequences of wasted calories working out solutions to problems which may have already been solved, but benefit in a changing environment.

Society as whole benefits from a mix of the two. Too many innovators and the total resources needed is too large, to many conservatives and the society is not adaptable enough to change. Since it is reasonable to presume that the happiness of each individual is linked to the happiness of the community they are in, it is likely that a proper mix of both groups is best for all regardless of what group they're in. Of course, this only applies to the small communities in our palaeolithic past. I doubt it would work as well in our massive modern communities.


I would say this is the question of Modern (not contemporary) philosophy as such. It is also called Life and Geist (Where Geist means Spirit or Rationality). Or, in Nietzsche, the Dionysian and the Apollonian. Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund is an unusually good dramatization of this radical antipathy and an attempt to answer your question. Nietzsche's work, on the whole, too, is constantly concerned with this inexhaustible question of yours.


There is an extremely famous consideration of something similar to your diagnoses, but without being quite so condescending.

Kierkegaard's "Either/Or" and its separate discussions (in which he becomes, at some point, four different authors) investigates two different approaches to life: The Aesthetic, which I think you are declaring 'typical', lives subjectively and has his motivations determined by what is around him. The Ethical, lives more objectively, but only by adding complexity and restraint. It risks a loss of oneself, in moving from a natural posture of 'wishing' to a more considered one of 'willing'.

His answer (to be really Procrustean) is that although the latter is an advancement over the former, it is a risk that is only worthwhile if it culminates in a deeper solution, identified as the Religious.

I think his point of view, and yours, assumes we all move in one direction between these two positions. But that does not seem to be the case.

Mauriac's "Woman of the Pharisees" (which some thing is written in response) makes the case that people just as often move in the opposite direction. That a large number of us cling to limiting structures in our youth, largely out of fear. As a result, they foreclose options for themselves and others for all the wrong reasons, and cause a great deal of damage before developing the courage to question their motivating structures.

The integration Kierkegaard is after may be equally necessary either way.

Jungians like Briggs-Myers put this dynamic more prosaically, and to my mind more fruitfully. In her classification, this is simply a movement between 'Judging' orientation and 'Perceiving' orientation. Jung himself suggests that everyone moves toward the center over time, if they mature, and useful maturity requires both the movement itself and the awareness of what was out of balance to begin with.

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