Nate Smith

Multiple Intelligences

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I was conversing with some teachers, and at one point I referred to the "smarter students" which is a phrase that did not go over very well with a couple. I was told that that phrase has negative connotations--that the other students must be the "dumb students". I asked if they agree that there are different levels of intelligence, and they did. So I asked, if there are some students of higher intelligence, what's wrong with acknowledging that fact? (Not to the students themselves of course, just as professionals speaking of how to best deal with particular students' needs) A number of the teachers mentioned how the phenomena we were discussing (and I won't go into all of the details) can better be explained by multiple intelligences. There are people who are intelligent in some areas and others who are intelligent in other areas.

I am vaguely familiar with Gardner's theory, and it seems to pop up frequently in education (it also seems to be highly motivated by egalitarianism), though I don't know much about the theory or the research behind it. Having read ITOE, it seems that much of what intelligence is is the capacity for abstraction (and abstract thought) and the theory of multiple intelligences fades away. I seem to remember a few comments somewhere on this forum reading people disagreeing with the theory as well.

I'd like to hear some thoughts by Objectivists on this topic. Do most Objectivists disagree with the theory of multiple intelligences, or not? And why? And if it is disregarded, what would explain that we might see one individual with very high math skills and another with very high creative writing skills? It does seem that there are tendencies for strengths in different areas. Is artistic ability (drawing, painting, composing) solely the result of the one thing that is intelligence? Or are there other factors at play, like with athletic abilities?

Thanks.

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Interesting topic, Nate. I have read a reasonable amount on the issue, but certainly not everything. My take is that theories of multiple intelligence mean to identify and ultimately find a way to measure aspects of intelligence not assessed by traditional intelligence tests. Traditional tests, such as the WAIS or Stanford-Binet, have become quite reliable and valid as measures of a particular set of cognitive capacities. They also have some fair predictive power. But no one would claim they measure ALL aspects of intelligence. So, others have tried to identify those other aspects.

I suspect that there is an egalitarian motive among some who grasp on to the idea almost defensively, such as the teachers you mention, but couldn't say for certain if the same motive is held by the theorists/researchers. To my knowledge, no reliable and valid measures of these other "intelligences" have been created. Therefore, the teachers you describe are grasping onto the idea not because it has a solid scientific foundation, but more likely because of their aversion to judging some people as smarter than others.

Having read ITOE, it seems that much of what intelligence is is the capacity for abstraction (and abstract thought) and the theory of multiple intelligences fades away.

Standard intelligence tests measure a variety of capacities in addition to abstraction. For instance, the WAIS full scale IQ score first breaks into two general skills and related IQ scores: Verbal and Performance. If further breaks down into the more descriptive factors of Verbal Comprehension, Processing Speed, Working Memory, and Perceptual Organization. So, in brief, intelligence is viewed as involving perception (part-whole relationships), reasoning, logic, memory, identifying patterns or sequences, the speed with which someone can process and solve problems, psychomotor speed and coordination, and even judgment in a social context. There are other things, too, but that covers a lot.

Do most Objectivists disagree with the theory of multiple intelligences, or not? And why? And if it is disregarded, what would explain that we might see one individual with very high math skills and another with very high creative writing skills? It does seem that there are tendencies for strengths in different areas. Is artistic ability (drawing, painting, composing) solely the result of the one thing that is intelligence? Or are there other factors at play, like with athletic abilities?

I agree with it in the sense that there are aspects of intelligence not currently measured by the traditional tests. But at present it is just a theory with not a lot of solid research behind it as yet, and it's likely being improperly seized upon by the egalitarian types, which means one should be skeptical.

You are right that there are tendencies for strengths in different areas. Standard theories of intelligence say that we all possess a genetically-based, general capacity for intelligence called "g." However, intelligence is composed of multiple capacities or skills, such as the ones indicated above. What's unclear to me is whether theories of multiple intelligence are saying that what I would consider different aspects of intelligence are just that, or are in fact completely separate types of intelligence. If the latter, I don't agree with that.

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I was conversing with some teachers, and at one point I referred to the "smarter students" which is a phrase that did not go over very well with a couple. I was told that that phrase has negative connotations--that the other students must be the "dumb students". I asked if they agree that there are different levels of intelligence, and they did. So I asked, if there are some students of higher intelligence, what's wrong with acknowledging that fact? (Not to the students themselves of course, just as professionals speaking of how to best deal with particular students' needs) A number of the teachers mentioned how the phenomena we were discussing (and I won't go into all of the details) can better be explained by multiple intelligences. There are people who are intelligent in some areas and others who are intelligent in other areas.
Sounds like desperate hand-wringing to avoid the fact that some children are more intelligent than others, however you want to define that (whether "intelligent" means they actual capacity of their brain, or how studious and knowledgeable they are). Teachers are so obsessed with not upsetting the "self-esteem" of their students that they go through great lengths to avoid pronouncing judgment, offering instead lame platitudes that "everyone is special in his own way".
I'd like to hear some thoughts by Objectivists on this topic. Do most Objectivists disagree with the theory of multiple intelligences, or not? And why? And if it is disregarded, what would explain that we might see one individual with very high math skills and another with very high creative writing skills? It does seem that there are tendencies for strengths in different areas. Is artistic ability (drawing, painting, composing) solely the result of the one thing that is intelligence? Or are there other factors at play, like with athletic abilities?
On the SAT and GRE I consistently scored higher on the verbal/written sections than math sections, and often my math scores were embarrassingly low. Yet now I'm a PhD student doing highly mathematical research in Condensed Matter Physics and doing it well... I would be skeptical of attempts to pigeonhole you based on your "intelligence" as determined by a test that has no relation to what real world work will be like in any field...

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I would have to agree that there are multiple intelligences. I know the aspects that come naturally to me, those that I have had to work hard to develop, and those I lack entirely. For some I have devised compensating techniques, including relying on others. I have no eye for colors, design, or the ability to draw. I rely on trusted others, or can copy to mimic good design principles. I have worked with children at different times teaching horseback riding. One little girl in particular showed a complete lack of any ability to feel the rhythm, move her body, and learn even basic riding skills. She was intelligent and highly motivated, but lacked that aspect of intelligence for physical activities. Perhaps labeling it a talent feels more right, but I have been swayed by Murray's analysis of this.

Where teachers and others go wrong is in looking at the entirety of a child's intelligence as a pool of talent points, so to speak. The assertion, or working assumption, is that all children have the same number of points, they are just each allocated uniquely. This is where they can say that one child is gifted in math, but another is just as smart and gifted in art. In reality this is absolute rubbish. Some are talented in every dimension. Some are disabled in every dimension. And some have more strengths, others more weaknesses, and so forth.

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Doesn't 'intelligence' refer to mental ability? If so, then that ability covers a very wide spectrum, and it is unlikely that a person's ability is at the same level in every area.

However, to call the different capabilities in each area as different intelligences sounds awfully confusing to me.

I would regard the sum total of all the abilities as the measure of ONE intelligence.

Thus two people of equal overall intelligence may have widely different abilities. One might say 'he is intelligent, but his ability to use words doesn't match his ability to use numbers, and he has no ability when it comes to music,' etc.

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However, to call the different capabilities in each area as different intelligences sounds awfully confusing to me.

I would regard the sum total of all the abilities as the measure of ONE intelligence.

Thus two people of equal overall intelligence may have widely different abilities. One might say 'he is intelligent, but his ability to use words doesn't match his ability to use numbers, and he has no ability when it comes to music,' etc.

Yes, I agree. Intelligence refers to one thing overall, but is composed of multiple components or abilities. Arguing that there are multiple, distinct intelligences is like arguing that there are multiple universes. I'm not sure that the theorists are trying to make that argument, but the term "multiple intelligences" makes it sound like they are.

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How would you distinguish between intelligence and mental ability? Who is more intelligent? Einstein, who formulated novel physical principles yet believed in God, Bill Gates, who made millions in business yet supports irrational foundations, or some professor of engineering who makes enough money to support his life but does not do very much with his life otherwise?

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How would you distinguish between intelligence and mental ability? Who is more intelligent? Einstein, who formulated novel physical principles yet believed in God, Bill Gates, who made millions in business yet supports irrational foundations, or some professor of engineering who makes enough money to support his life but does not do very much with his life otherwise?

These questions may be meant for Arnold, so I apologize if my answers are butting-in.

Comparing your first question to the question on who is more intelligent highlights the distinction between having intelligence and using it.

To the first question, I see intelligence as being the sum of one's mental abilities, as Arnold indicated. This is treating intelligence as either an overall capacity or a "thing." In this sense, all three men are intelligent, maybe equally so (but standouts in different fields).

However, as your examples indicate, intelligent people don't always use or apply it to all areas of life. So, we could say Bill Gates makes an unintelligent decision to support irrational foundations. But that judgment and description applies to his choice, not his intelligence as such. Certainly Gates has the capacity to understand that a foundation is irrational and shouldn't be supported, but for whatever reason he chooses to support it.

Now we are moving from the strict realm of intelligence or mental abilities to the much broader area of psychology. That is, in order to understand his choice we have to understand his motivations, which are based in his experiences, premises, and so forth. Making a bad choice doesn't make Gates unintelligent; at worst he is unintelligent in a given area (e.g., choosing which foundations to support).

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How would you distinguish between intelligence and mental ability? Who is more intelligent? Einstein, who formulated novel physical principles yet believed in God, Bill Gates, who made millions in business yet supports irrational foundations, or some professor of engineering who makes enough money to support his life but does not do very much with his life otherwise?

Scott answered this very well, and I concur.

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How would you distinguish between intelligence and mental ability? Who is more intelligent? Einstein, who formulated novel physical principles yet believed in God, Bill Gates, who made millions in business yet supports irrational foundations, or some professor of engineering who makes enough money to support his life but does not do very much with his life otherwise?

These questions may be meant for Arnold, so I apologize if my answers are butting-in.

Comparing your first question to the question on who is more intelligent highlights the distinction between having intelligence and using it.

To the first question, I see intelligence as being the sum of one's mental abilities, as Arnold indicated. This is treating intelligence as either an overall capacity or a "thing." In this sense, all three men are intelligent, maybe equally so (but standouts in different fields).

However, as your examples indicate, intelligent people don't always use or apply it to all areas of life. So, we could say Bill Gates makes an unintelligent decision to support irrational foundations. But that judgment and description applies to his choice, not his intelligence as such. Certainly Gates has the capacity to understand that a foundation is irrational and shouldn't be supported, but for whatever reason he chooses to support it.

Now we are moving from the strict realm of intelligence or mental abilities to the much broader area of psychology. That is, in order to understand his choice we have to understand his motivations, which are based in his experiences, premises, and so forth. Making a bad choice doesn't make Gates unintelligent; at worst he is unintelligent in a given area (e.g., choosing which foundations to support).

Based upon your points, then why is the issue of intelligence even a subject for public discourse? If all that I can observe is the exercise and implementation of particular mental abilities, then talking about intelligence is irrelevant. Undoubtedly, I have mental abilities that I have not even exercised due to lack of time to devote to its development; so does everyone else. If I have the ability to judge the irrationality of Obama's policies but Harry Reid does not, where does intelligence come in when making a judgment? Harry does not have an ability that I do. Does this make me more intelligent? Harry has the ability to manipulate people, an ability I don't have. Is he more intelligent than me?

It just seems like the issue of intelligence is irrelevant, morally. I don't even understand how one can formulate an opinion about intelligence without having some scientific information about an individual. My online dictionary defines intelligence as "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." If I can observe that some people have an ability, either hitting a baseball, thinking in principles, manipulating people, etc., and I can judge people based upon such abilities relative my hierarchy of values, what value do I get by saying someone is more intelligent than someone else because he has the ability to do something better than others?

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You ask: "If I have the ability to judge the irrationality of Obama's policies but Harry Reid does not, where does intelligence come in when making a judgment? Harry does not have an ability that I do. Does this make me more intelligent? Harry has the ability to manipulate people, an ability I don't have. Is he more intelligent than me? "

There is a difference between intelligence, and the way it is used. I see intelligence as the potential one has, rather than the actual achievement one has. After all, the ability to think clearly is not a given with intelligence, and yet intelligence requires clear thinking if it is to stay in accord with reality. I have encountered brilliant people who's thinking is chaotic in many areas, and very ordinary intelligences who have control of the full potential of their minds. I can't be the only one who has encountered intelligent people who are nuts. Making good judgements is more dependent on clarity of thought than potential intelligence.

An analogy, is that a race car has more potential than a sedan as far as speed is concerned, but how well it actually does, depends on the way it is handled. Disorganization concerning a race car is more detrimental to it's performance than it is to a more modest machine.

I often liken disorganized (unprincipled thinking) to a dictionary that doesn't have it's letters arranged alphabetically, but instead relies on memory or grouping by subject matter. Such a dictionary would handicap even the most brilliant, allowing even the slow witted to sail past with the benefit of an organized arrangement.

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You ask: "If I have the ability to judge the irrationality of Obama's policies but Harry Reid does not, where does intelligence come in when making a judgment? Harry does not have an ability that I do. Does this make me more intelligent? Harry has the ability to manipulate people, an ability I don't have. Is he more intelligent than me? "

There is a difference between intelligence, and the way it is used. I see intelligence as the potential one has, rather than the actual achievement one has.

How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements? I have the potential to be a carpenter, but I've never pursued it? How would you judge such potential?

After all, the ability to think clearly is not a given with intelligence, and yet intelligence requires clear thinking if it is to stay in accord with reality. I have encountered brilliant people who's thinking is chaotic in many areas, and very ordinary intelligences who have control of the full potential of their minds. I can't be the only one who has encountered intelligent people who are nuts. Making good judgements is more dependent on clarity of thought than potential intelligence.

An analogy, is that a race car has more potential than a sedan as far as speed is concerned, but how well it actually does, depends on the way it is handled. Disorganization concerning a race car is more detrimental to it's performance than it is to a more modest machine.

The reason you know that a race car has more potential than a sedan is because you've seen an actual race car in operation. If you saw a race car in your driveway but opened up the hood and saw there was no engine (or only 3 tires), your knowledge of its potential would be meaningless. Harry Reid may be intelligent but if all he does is pursue power, then he is a dolt no matter how one judges his potential.

Intelligence seems to be judged "after the fact" so to speak, after a particular ability has been expressed. And the implication seems to imply such intelligence applies to any potential ability that a person might achieve in any field. Unless, of course, such statements as "he's a genius" are qualified, "he's a genius in physics/math/piano/philosophy." But such qualifications are rarely stated in evaluations.

I often liken disorganized (unprincipled thinking) to a dictionary that doesn't have it's letters arranged alphabetically, but instead relies on memory or grouping by subject matter. Such a dictionary would handicap even the most brilliant, allowing even the slow witted to sail past with the benefit of an organized arrangement.

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It just seems like the issue of intelligence is irrelevant, morally. I don't even understand how one can formulate an opinion about intelligence without having some scientific information about an individual. My online dictionary defines intelligence as "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills."

I agree, intelligence does seem irrelevant, morally. The idea that rationality necessarily follows from intelligence, which, of course, it doesn't, is rampant and only perpetuated by "High IQ" societies like Mensa. They do, however, have scientific methods for determining a person's intelligence (although in a very limited sense). The John Ravens A/PM, for example, measure pattern matching ability, which one can easily see as being very useful in a real profession.

If I can observe that some people have an ability, either hitting a baseball, thinking in principles, manipulating people, etc., and I can judge people based upon such abilities relative my hierarchy of values, what value do I get by saying someone is more intelligent than someone else because he has the ability to do something better than others?

I'm a little confused by this. Given my hierarchy of values, and all other factors being the same, do I not have more to gain from someone who is able to do something better than other people as long as it is not something like "manipulating others"?

Also, societies like Mensa allow people to meet others with comparable level of intelligence, which in itself, is something usually valuable to people of high intelligence. This is not because other intelligent people are more rational or productive but because, as you go up the IQ scale, people have hugely different processing skills - they, for example, can process a lot more information in a given time or observe a lot more in a given situation and it is hard for someone like that to relate to anyone except others like them in just that sense (i.e. with unique processing skills). Of course, that is not to say that Ted Kaczynski-crazy is something good to relate to but my point is that just intelligence, with all that it implies, might be of value to someone even in a person who is not the most rational or productive.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements? I have the potential to be a carpenter, but I've never pursued it? How would you judge such potential?

I don't think an "achievement" is required for a particular ability to be identified. There are always indications of such an ability that can be observed by people one knows (sometimes only by those one knows very well), or just by oneself - you might surprise yourself by making a beautifully intricate soap carving one day and file the information away that you have the ability to carve well and can someday develop this further.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements? I have the potential to be a carpenter, but I've never pursued it? How would you judge such potential?

----

Intelligence seems to be judged "after the fact" so to speak, after a particular ability has been expressed. And the implication seems to imply such intelligence applies to any potential ability that a person might achieve in any field. Unless, of course, such statements as "he's a genius" are qualified, "he's a genius in physics/math/piano/philosophy." But such qualifications are rarely stated in evaluations.

I think statements about intelligence should be qualified if one is being specific about a case. You are right of course, that there must be some evidence indicated, for one to determine intelligence. One cannot measure it by the amount of wealth achieved because there is no direct relationship to overall intelligence there. Neither can one look a a single talented area of an individual as an overall level of intelligence. (Idiot savant?)

To me it sensible to say -overall, he is very intelligent, but one area his intelligence is low, is (examples) the use of words, understanding music, figures, drawing etc.

Your question now aims at how one does intelligence tests, which is a different one from 'are there different intelligences?' Tests are done to measure potential abilities; at least that is what they hope to do.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements?

Ayn Rand once said that she judged a person's intelligence by the best she had ever seen from them ... twice.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements?

Ayn Rand once said that she judged a person's intelligence by the best she had ever seen from them ... twice.

???

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I take it to mean the best thing she had seen from them that they had done twice. That is, repeated.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements?

Ayn Rand once said that she judged a person's intelligence by the best she had ever seen from them ... twice.

???

I think she meant by "the best" the smartest things that they had ever done. Doing something that seems smart might be due to an accident, but doing smart things on more than one occasion is probably due to having the capacity to do smart things.

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How does one judge intelligence if not through particular achievements?

Ayn Rand once said that she judged a person's intelligence by the best she had ever seen from them ... twice.

???

I think she meant by "the best" the smartest things that they had ever done. Doing something that seems smart might be due to an accident, but doing smart things on more than one occasion is probably due to having the capacity to do smart things.

Got it. I never thought of it that way. I usually evaluate someone on whether they seem smarter than me or not.

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I usually evaluate someone on whether they seem smarter than me or not.
But... how could that be???

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I usually evaluate someone on whether they seem smarter than me or not.
But... how could that be???

It is indeed a rare event.

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I usually evaluate someone on whether they seem smarter than me or not.
But... how could that be???

It is indeed a rare event.

HAHAHA! An excellent response. :)

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Based upon your points, then why is the issue of intelligence even a subject for public discourse? If all that I can observe is the exercise and implementation of particular mental abilities, then talking about intelligence is irrelevant. Undoubtedly, I have mental abilities that I have not even exercised due to lack of time to devote to its development; so does everyone else.

It's always true that we can only observe another's words and actions. But that doesn't make discourse on mental capacities or abilities, such as intelligence, irrelevant. If that were so, wouldn't we have to abandon discourse on all concepts of consciousness? But setting that aside, there are other reasons to discuss intelligence, which I'll get into below.

If I have the ability to judge the irrationality of Obama's policies but Harry Reid does not, where does intelligence come in when making a judgment? Harry does not have an ability that I do. Does this make me more intelligent? Harry has the ability to manipulate people, an ability I don't have. Is he more intelligent than me?

These questions prompted me to look more closely at the definitions of "capacity" and "ability." My sense was that there is something different between these two concepts that is important.

Using dictionary.com, "capacity" most often has the concept “ability” or “power” in the definition. Specifically, the ability or power to receive, contain, and perform (that's my shortened version of it). An ability is "a general word for power, native or acquired, enabling one to do things well." Most, but not all, of the definitions of ability speak to the issue of competence or skill.

To the extent one can pull these ideas apart, I see ability as a general word for the power to competently perform something specific (e.g., math, dancing), whereas capacity is a specific word for the general power of cognition and its application. An ability is a developed capacity.

So, in regard to you and Harry Reid, you both undoubtedly have the capacity to judge Obama's policies as irrational. But you may differ in ability, in this case the development of your competence to make such judgments. Or, since you raise the issue of morality, what if you both have equally developed abilities of making these judgments, yet Harry Reid chooses the irrational despite his ability?

(And isn't that a frequent question thoughtful people ask about those on the left--"How can they possibly spout and support policies that are now KNOWN to be flawed and destructive; are they stupid or is it intentional? And if it's intentional, then are we looking at pure malevolence here?")

But back to your questions, neither of you would be considered more intelligent than the other because of strengths or weaknesses in just a couple of areas. Intelligence is broader, and I'm thinking a capacity first, as ultimately demonstrated by abilities in multiple areas over time.

Maybe a good analogy is that intelligence is like an engine. Its performance will depend on how it's treated and used, as well as the natural limitations of its design and structure.

It just seems like the issue of intelligence is irrelevant, morally.

I see it as a moral issue in the sense of what people choose to do or support if they not only have capacity but also ability. So, going back to Reid, I'm sure there is plenty of evidence that he makes many rational judgments or decisions in multiple areas of his life, especially those in his personal life. But he either chooses not to exercise this ability in politics, or uses it—actually comes to the same conclusion as you—but still chooses to support the irrational policy. In either case, it seems pretty clear that something has to be evaded, which is a hallmark of immorality.

I don't even understand how one can formulate an opinion about intelligence without having some scientific information about an individual. My online dictionary defines intelligence as "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." If I can observe that some people have an ability, either hitting a baseball, thinking in principles, manipulating people, etc., and I can judge people based upon such abilities relative my hierarchy of values, what value do I get by saying someone is more intelligent than someone else because he has the ability to do something better than others?

I guess you wouldn't necessarily get any value from that. I think what you would get value from is judging the person's choice of using his abilities (assuming they have been developed) and the purpose for which they are used. Using your examples, I would judge both thinking in principles and hitting a baseball to be good and moral, and I would judge manipulating people to be bad and immoral. All require ability and demonstrate some amount of intelligence. But it's the difference between putting intelligence to a productive versus a destructive purpose.

There are some other reasons to consider the moral issues in judging intelligence that I’ll only briefly cover here.

First, our educational system uses tests of all kinds to measure achievement and, to an extent, intelligence. From elementary school on, children are assessed in these respects, and curricula is designed for different levels of assessed ability. In my schools (I grew up in Buffalo, New York), there were four levels in high school (fewer prior to that). We had “Basic,” “School,” “Regular,” and “Advanced.” I’m sure the meanings of those categories are fairly straightforward.

The question becomes, “What are the standards used to judge intelligence or ability, which effectively put a child on a particular educational course?” Also, “What are the standards used to judge teacher quality?” Both of these things involve value-judgments and an underlying philosophy, including morality.

Another issue is the role of genetics in intelligence. That which is genetically determined is beyond choice. And there is certainly reason to believe that, at a minimum, some people are born with more capacity than others. But capacity, or potential, isn’t actual. That requires experience and learning. How does one “actualize” intelligence? This goes directly back to the issue of our current educational curricula.

The issue to me is quite fascinating, and I think important. Psychology is the “stealth” science—it doesn’t get a lot of attention, but its influence is quite significant. A lot more could be said on that, but I’ll leave it there.

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