This essay traces two research programmes in broad strokes. Both programmes start from
the same observation — the behaviour of an ant (or termite) colony and the ability of the
ant colony to act in a collective manner to achieve goals that the individual ant cannot.
For one programme such behaviour is indicative of intelligence; for the other it is
indicative of (collective) instinct. The primary intention of the essay is not to assess the
claims of intelligence found, but to consider the rationale of the researchers involved in
the two programmes for doing such research. It is observed that virtue in one programme
is understanding (with the concomitant ability to explain — and, hence, teach), while the
primary virtue in the other programme is the utility — and ultimately efficiency — that
this may add to human problem solving skills. The two programmes used as illustration
are Eugène Marais’s study of termites in the first half of the 20th century and the
emergence of artificial intelligence projects that are inspired by ant behaviour in the
second half of the 20th century. The essay suggests that the current emphasis of inquiry
at tertiary education institutions embraces utility to the extent that it displaces pure
insight — and hence the ability to explain and, ultimately, the ability to teach.