Intelligence As a Dirty Word

Once upon a time I read a post, “The Nature of Intelligence”,  at a now-defunct blog named MBTI Truths. Here is the entire text of the post:

A commonly held misconception within the MBTI community is that iNtuitives are smarter than Sensors. They are thought to have higher intelligence, but this belief is misguided. In an assessment of famous people with high IQs, the vast majority of them are iNtuitive. However, IQ tests measure only two types of intelligences: linguistic and logical-mathematical. In addition to these, there are six other types of intelligence: spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Sensors would probably outscore iNtuitives in several of these areas. Perhaps MBTI users should come to see iNtuitives, who make up 25 percent of the population, as having a unique type of intelligence instead of superior intelligence.

The use of “intelligence” with respect to traits other than brain-power is misguided. “Intelligence” has a clear and unambiguous meaning in everyday language; for example:

The capacity to acquire, understand, and use knowledge.

That is the way in which I use “intelligence” in “Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness”, and it is the way in which the word is commonly understood. The application of “intelligence” to other kinds of ability — musical, interpersonal, etc. — is a fairly recent development that smacks of anti-elitism. It is a way of saying that highly intelligent individuals (where “intelligence” carries its traditional meaning) are not necessarily superior in all respects. No kidding!

As to the merits of the post at MBTI Truths, it is mere hand-waving to say that “Sensors would probably outscore iNtuitives in several of these” other types of ability. And what is naturalistic intelligence, anyway?

Returning to a key point of my post, “Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness”, the claim that iNtuitives are generally smarter than Sensors is nothing but a claim about the relative capacity of iNtuitives to acquire and apply knowledge. It is quite correct to say that iNtuitives are not necessarily better than Sensors at, say, sports, music, glad-handing, and so one. It is also quite correct to say that iNtuitives generally are more intelligent than Sensors, in the standard meaning of “intelligence”.

Other so-called types of intelligence are not types of intelligence, at all. They are simply other types of ability, each of them is (perhaps) valuable in its own way. But calling them types of intelligence is a transparent effort to denigrate the importance of real intelligence, which is an important determinant of significant life outcomes: learning, job performance, income, health, and criminality (in the negative).

It is a sign of the times that an important human trait is played down in an effort to inflate the egos of persons who are not well endowed with respect to that trait. The attempt to redefine or minimize intelligence is of a piece with the use of genteelisms, which Wilson Follett defines as

soft-spoken expressions that are either unnecessary or too regularly used. The modern world is much given to making up euphemisms that turn into genteelisms. Thus newspapers and politicians shirk speaking of the poor and the crippled. These persons become, respectively, the underprivileged (or disadvantaged) and the handicapped [and now -challenged and -abled: ED]. (Modern American Usage (1966), p. 169)


Genteelisms may be of … the old-fashioned sort that will not name common things outright, such as the absurd plural bosoms for breasts, and phrases that try to conceal accidental associations of ideas, such as back of for behind. The advertiser’s genteelisms are too numerous to count. They range from the false comparative (e.g., the better hotels) to the soapy phrase (e.g., gracious living), which is supposed to poeticize and perfume the proffer of bodily comforts. (Ibid., p. 170)

And so it is that such traits as athleticism, musical virtuosity, and garrulousness become kinds of intelligence. Why? Because it is somehow inegalitarian — and therefore unmentionable — that some persons are smarter than others. It would be doubly inegalitarian — but likely true — that smarter persons also have genetic tendencies to greater health and physical attractiveness.

Life just isn’t fair, so get over it.


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