A reader wrote me:
I would like to know whether there is a similar term in Indian philosophy (sanskrit) for ‘Intelligence’. Can we equate it with the term prajñānam?
The problem with such questions (I do not know about you, but I often receive them), is that they are based on an atomic concept of sentences, as if there were a 1:1 correspondence among concepts and words and among language 1 and language 2. This theory has long been superseded both in linguistics (see Saussure’s discussion of how not even “tree” can be easily translated) and in translation theories. Moreover, as a scholar of Mīmāṃsā, I tend to imagine that the contribution of each word in a sentence is at least also a result of the contributions of the other words in the same sentence.
Thus, at least in case of philosophical concepts, one cannot focus on a single term, i.e., on a “dictionary approach”, but rather on what Umberto Eco calls the encyclopedic approach, i.e., offering a broader definition instead of a 1:1 translation. Moreover, each discussion of a (European) philosophical term needs to be preceded by an analysis of the term itself. Ideally, one should reconstruct it, too, through an encyclopedic approach (what does “X” entail? in which contexts is it used?).
In the case of “intelligence”, prajñā (not prajñāna) is often used, even more so in Mahāyāna texts, for “wisdom”, it can mean also “discrimination” and can therefore be compared to “intelligence”. I would, however, rather suggest buddhi, which stands for one’s ability to engage intellectually, especially because it does not have the sapiential aspect of prajñā and because buddhimat `having buddhi‘ can often be used in contexts in which in English one would speak of “intelligent” people. Another possibility would be prekṣā, again because of the use of prekṣāvat in order to define people who are able to consider things before deliberating.
What do readers think? How do you conceive “intelligence” in Sanskrit?
Cross-posted on my personal blog