An intellectual is a person who uses his or her intellect to study, reflect, and speculate on a variety of different ideas.

Coleridge speculated early in the nineteenth century on the concept of the clerisy, a class rather than a type of individual, and a secular equivalent of the (Anglican) clergy, with a duty of upholding (national) culture. The idea of the intelligentsia, in comparison, dates from roughly the same time, and is based more concretely on the class of 'mental' or white-collar workers.

From that time onwards, in Europe and elsewhere, some variants of the idea of an intellectual class have been important (not least to intellectuals, self-styled). The degrees of actual involvement in art, or politics, journalism and education, of nationalist or internationalist or ethnic sentiment, constituting the 'vocation' of an intellectual, have never become fixed. Some intellectuals have been vehemently anti-academic; at times universities and their professoriat have been synonymous with intellectualism, but in other periods and some places the centre of gravity of intellectual life has been elsewhere.

See also: anti-intellectualism, la trahison des clercs.