I think most people concerned with philosophy would think that morality is at least a type of intelligence, one way of being intelligent. Some forms of "ethical realism" must surely rely on ethical behaviour etc. being in some way learnt.

Does that mean that intelligence in general relates to morality by being dependent on, or correlating with it, or is that just an empirical question?

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    Morality is about ends, intelligence is about means, moral intelligence is about selecting appropriate means to achieve moral ends.
    – Conifold
    May 28 '20 at 3:33
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    i think that reads wrong, if you're suggesting at all that there are -- certainly -- rational immoral ends
    – user46524
    May 28 '20 at 3:41
  • we're misunderstanding each other. i only replied because i disagree with some implicit claims and citing empirical psychology i find unhelpful
    – user46524
    May 28 '20 at 5:11
  • Morality is an extension of non-rational biological altruism. Thus, intelligence nuances how morality is expressed since the extension of the altruistic to the moral requires argumentation. Lawrence Kohlberg's theory seeks to show how they relate as a person grows more mature and intelligent generally.
    – J D
    May 28 '20 at 5:36
  • A lot of very smart people have done very evil things precisely because they were intelligent enough to come up with rationalizations that a more stupid person would not have.
    – Mary
    May 28 '20 at 17:04

To bust out an old, old saw: intelligence is knowing how to do things; wisdom is knowing when not to do them. They are separate (if interrelated) faculties. Morality is a kind of wisdom: an understanding that one should refrain from certain activities even though one is perfectly capable of doing them. It doesn't particularly rely on intelligence, and intelligence can sometimes run roughshod over it.

The super-category for both intelligence and morality is reason. Intelligence is reason applied dialectically and teleologically, with the goal of manipulating the properties of objects to achieve a particular end. Morality is reason applied as a negative dialectic. It calls attention to the 'rightness' and 'such-ness' of both the particular ends and the manipulations made to achieve those ends, things that we might otherwise blindly accept as mere matters of fact.


Morality is an essential feature of a complete human life. Real morality is alive. It springs from your authentic being.

You need morality to have a complete life. Complete human life is established in morality. Morality is an essential ingredient that makes up a complete, total human being.

Fully functional intelligence works on morality as well, or is grounded on morality. You can't navigate this life without morality. You will make mistakes and be punished for your sins by the laws of life.


If there is a complex enough set of moral truths, it would require a comparatively complex enough set of thoughts to "get at" these truths. However, it is possible to know what is good and not do it (acedia) as well as to know what is wrong and do it (akrasia), so there is a mismatch between "being intelligent enough to know complex moral truths" and "being virtuous enough to abide by those truths."

Now on the other hand, too complex a code of ethics and the code might not be "reliable" enough to act on. So we might not expect a plausible code of moral truth to require spectacular intellect to arrive at and work with. And there is an abstract similarity between truth and goodness such that people who "act contrary to the truth" (a phrase in Kant's labyrinths) might very well seem to therefore "believe contrary to the truth," too.

So the mainstream approach to solutions to this question takes the difference between all-things-considered judgments and all-out judgments as the point of departure: let us say something like "proof enough for knowledge is consistent with akrasia, but absolute proof is not." I.e. if you "use your intellect" to completely prove a point of ethics (supposing you ever could!), you can tie your intelligence to your subsequent lack of (in context) unethical behavior. But note that, to preserve free will (as choice), even absolute moral intellection will not compel you to the good alone, i.e. will not solve for acedia. Only the thing is, whereas before you could choose from "good, neutral, wrong," now you can only choose "good or neutral."