I know that dolphins are intelligent creatures, and young people can be intelligent as well. Students can be clever. But can a student be intelligent and a dolphin be clever?

What's the difference between clever and intelligent?

  • I believe you may get an English answer, but I suspect you really want an answer from philosophy. Certainly dolphins can be clever. What is "intelligent"? – Elliott Frisch Mar 31 '14 at 20:43
  • Perhaps you are intelligent as well, but from your question, stating that young women can be intelligent as well, I cannot know if it is true. But I have reason to doubt it. – anongoodnurse Mar 31 '14 at 20:46
  • @Elliott Frisch "intelligent" - 'able to learn and understand things easily' according to the dictionary. I need only English usage answer, because I can't see any difference but I think the difference exists. – Selio Mar 31 '14 at 20:49
  • @Selio "clever" - 'showing intelligence' also according to the dictionary. – Elliott Frisch Mar 31 '14 at 20:55

I agree with Elliott Frisch that what you really want an answer from philosophy. The answer in English word meaning, that is, definitions, is easy.

The definition of intelligence has changed throughout history to reflect the attempt to qualitatively differentiate man from all animals.

Intelligence has been defined as one's capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, and problem solving.

Music was thought to prove intelligence. It turns out animals can make music. Relatively recently, it was thought to be the ability to form a society. Ant and bee studies, as well as primate studies, knocked down that definition. Before Jane Goodall proved chimpanzees could use tools, the definition was the ability to use tools. Then it switched to language, which was shot down by Koko the gorilla's ability to use sign language effectively. It changes constantly. The ability to feel pain? Nonsense. Self-recognition? No good (many animals have a proven sense of self). Empathy? Nope (look at elephants, chimps, bonobos, etc.) Morality? Nope. We are left with the unprovable: spirituality, or a knowledge of mortality, or some other indefinable characteristic in animals. (Interestingly this article made a similar facile observation about young women.) Most honest neuroscientists today will tell you that the difference between animals and humans is a quantitative, not a qualitative, one. So the short answer is: intelligence exists in animals and humans.

Semantically, it depends entirely on your definitions of intelligent and clever, and b) your ability to comprehend circular arguments.

Clever is defined in several ways, two of which are 1. mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able, and 2. superficially skillful or witty; facile. If you set aside all the other meanings (agreeable, neat, amiable, etc.) it depends on which of the two major definitions for clever that you accept.

If clever = intelligent/bright, and intelligent = to use the power of reasoning and inference effectively, then anything that is intelligent is clever.

If you take clever to mean able to quickly make witty observations, well, it's hard to know for certain, but Koko has made some witty/clever comments. (When asked by her teacher "What can you think of that's hard?" Koko replied, "rock . . . work." She also described a zebra as a "white tiger".)

However, if by clever you mean facile (defined here as superficial; shallow: a facile answer to a hard question), then no, I don't think a dolphin can be facile, although there is plenty of evidence that they do have a sense of humor. They can also be amazingly emotionally aware. I saw a wild dolphin come to investigate a little girl on a boat after it had heard her singing. It stayed with her for about - it's hard to say, time is different when one is mesmerized - 10-15 minutes, then, before leaving, it very gently splashed only her. This was a wild dolphin.


Students can definitely be intelligent, and dolphins can be clever.

Some ways to distinguish these:

  • how intelligent someone is can be measured with tests (eg. IQ tests), or at least some claim it can be - it might be considered a more constant characteristic

  • clever and intelligent are two different, though related, characteristics; somebody who is clever might be creative with their ideas, they might come up with ingenious solutions to problems, especially if they think up those ideas quickly, or if those ideas are strikingly simple; an intelligent person might solve the problem slower and the solution might not be quite as striking, but may have been thought through better

  • you can say things like "somebody is clever with his hands" or "clever ball control" - in both cases, this is about skill and not intelligence, you can't substitute "clever" with "intelligent" here

  • "clever" denotes something done in an interesting, unusual, ingenious way, eg. "a clever invention", "a clever marketing strategy" - again, "intelligent" doesn't fit such a meaning

In general, "intelligent" is closer to "intellectual, mentally capable, logical", and "clever" is closer to "creative, ingenious, cunning".


clever http://thesaurus.com/browse/clever

intelligent http://thesaurus.com/browse/intelligent

There is certainly an overlap in the synonyms.

Clever is more quick witted. This means he can think on his feet.

definition: os x dictionary

clever |ˈklevər| adjective quick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas; intelligent:

Intelligent is more being able to think things through. Think before acting kinda. The definition is more general.

definition os x dictionary

intelligent |inˈtelijənt| adjective having or showing intelligence, esp. of a high level:

You can be both. But clever has more the ring of you had no resources you just made this up on the spot.


I believe cleverness has to do with the development of neural pathways, which can be inborn but are largely developed early if the young brain is exposed to stimulus and learning. Example of that being my learning piano quite young. I developed great brain to finger connectivity. And decades later I note a huge difference with respect to my facility at exposition depending on whether I write longhand or type on a keyboard. Just as one can improvise on a piano only by unconscious brain directed finger work, I find that my fingers are typing words and phrases before I am consciously aware of my thought stream, and when I let that expositional improvisation go unfettered I am often pleasantly surprised at the result, which I could never have seen coming, and had I been writing by hand, the slowness of that process would have left my brain bored, its cache full waiting for my handwriting to catch up. So cleverness relates to the quality of neural pathways, allowing mental dexterity. I was a nuclear engineer. My first boss told me he liked me because I was a quick study. That is cleverness. In a group situation, presented with a litany of inputs, I could, more quickly than others, assimilate those inputs, analyze them and postulate a likely meaning, and do so articulately - what someone here referred to as thinking on your feet - leading the group to conclude I was intellectually superior, even if that was not the case. Truthfully, I was able to process the data through my cadre of cerebral apps more quickly than others even if their cadre of cerebral apps was better than mine. Winning on Jeopardy was all about cleverness.

  • 2
    Please edit your answer to add paragraph breaks. – NVZ Jan 27 '17 at 19:01

protected by NVZ Jan 27 '17 at 19:02

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