How intelligent is intelligence theory? Ruthless Criticism

How intelligent is intelligence theory?

[Translated from Sozialistische Gruppe]

1. Intelligence: a “hidden” quality of behavior which can be “discovered” only by means of a prejudice

“There is no real ‘intelligence’ at all. It is not an object, but an abstraction, a conceptual construction, a linguistic convention about indirectly verifiable facts . . . Intelligence cannot be absolutely defined, and because it is an abstraction, just as little directly observed, but only inferred from behavior – in accordance with a social preconception. This preconception decides whether and in which measure a behavior can be considered as ‘intelligent’ or not.” (Hermann Rosemann, Intelligence Theory, 1979, p. 23)

“Social preconception” should perform the trick of awarding the searched-for quality to behavior which is not at all to be found theoretically. Only: either “intelligence” characterizes behavior, then it is also identified by it – or it doesn't, in which case it makes no use of “preconception.”

The fact that intelligence does not stand as an object “directly” in view – which is also no wonder with a concept because a concept explains reality and therefore cannot coincide with it – this bogus “predicament” should serve as an argument that a preconception is appropriate and must be speculation. Mr. Rosemann demonstrates, on behalf of the whole guild, the pure intention to assume a mysterious, non-ascertainable ability by the name of “intelligence,” which should nevertheless be a characteristic of behavior.

The whole thing lives on the unshakeable certainty of having tracked down something one already holds – qua prejudice – as proven: the different learning abilities of socially different people.

2. Intelligence: the ability to be able

“Intelligence is the ability to acquire skill.” (Atlas of Psychology, Vol 1.)

“Undiscussed is the fact that by intelligence, an ability, i.e. a condition or complex of conditions of certain achievements, is to be understood." (Herder, Dictionary of Psychology, Vol. 2)

One person counts correctly, another writes a correct sentence and a third repairs an engine, and it already clicks for the psychologist in accord with the pre-given definition. Here somebody is proficient in the rules of arithmetic, grammar or his profession – the content of this knowledge and skill are not found worthy of any further notice. Because behind every competency there should be an ability that makes all mental abilities possible and is expressed in all specific knowledge. An ability which exists in no specific skill is supposed to underlie each specific skill, thus contains nothing and can therefore just be whatever a person performs?

This idea of a universal ability for every skill inherent in people may perhaps be borrowed from the dream of a philosopher's stone; earthly technical skills and knowledge are in any case not to be attributed to it. Ultimately, all knowledge and talent must be acquired and appropriated. And if this has happened, the skill completely coincides with the specific content of what was learned – otherwise nothing was learned, and then no skill has been acquired. There is not, in any case, an ability apart from what one can do.

Now, to be sure, intelligence theory does not deny that every new skill can only be acquired bit by bit. But scarcely is any ability acquired that is not said to be due at all to the learning acquirement of the specific knowledge or skill. The lovers of intelligence do not want to let it matter that something can be done simply because somebody has learned how to do it. Instead, an ability is assumed which should on the one hand constitute the knowledge and skills an individual disposes of, but at the same time explain the mere possibility for them: intelligence is regarded as an ability which determines what one is able to learn; it is believed to define the content, level and magnitude of educational achievement.

In addition, this “deduction” of an ability from an individual’s achievements is circular: how do psychologists/educators actually know that this ability exists? A specific mental achievement indicates it to them! And how do they know that it results from an ability which lies behind it? Because otherwise the mental achievement wouldn't have come about. Quod erat demonstrandum. A proof which turns in circles: from an ability in arithmetic, for example, a conclusion is made about an additional general ability whose proof exists in nothing other than the existence of the specific knowledge.

Furthermore, the construction of this presumed, underlying ability is tautological because a property of the same contents is assigned to all knowledge. Indeed this immediate doubling of skill and an ability lying behind it complies with the motto: he who can add is able to do addition – this is considered unacceptable even by psychologists and educators, but the same nonsense becomes respectable with a little generalization: intelligence theorists construct a formal difference between ability and demonstration while, for example, the more general classification is held that addition concerns a mathematical achievement, and repeats the same tautology, only on a more abstract track. Addition (= mathematical ability) is purportedly a “mathematical talent,” which is underlain by an “ability for performing mathematical exercises.”

This alleged deduction from an assertion contains an alleged but faulty equation: any ability is supposed to show what the intelligence produces but at the same time it is also more than that: for example, a talent is said to be active which also gives information about the property of other mathematical achievements which also determines achievements which just do not coincide with the exhibited operation. In addition, ability in a knowledge and skill is said to be demonstrated that the individual (as yet) can not demonstrate apart from this mathematical operation. Indeed, no educator or psychologist would set on the daring assertion that someone who can add two and two also immediately catches on to integral calculus; however, this assertion is included in the abstract in the construction of a “mathematical intelligence.” And psychology admits to this assertion in its ideal that, based on the performance of somebody´s intelligence, you are able to prognosticate what he will be able to comprehend in the course of his future life.

Moreover, the inference of a power available in the subject from a mental achievement is in addition a pure reversion: if somebody has learned something, it is included in the fact that the acquisition of this knowledge was possible anyhow. He has long actualized this possibility. One does not become one iota more intelligent with this knowledge.

On the contrary, for educators and psychologists it depends on the meager and absurd idea of placing the possibility for a mental achievement as an independent thing alongside its performance as its presupposition. Obviously, for them it is precisely about the idea that a determinant, appointing power is responsible, involved in everything that people bring about – even if it can’t be observed from front or back.

3. "Without intelligence, nothing goes!" – and what goes with it?

“... vice versa ... stupidity or mental handicap, in extreme cases, means life-long dependence on assistance-granting persons or institutions.” (Amelang/Bartussek, Differential Psychology and Personality Research, Stuttgart 2001, p. 190)

The ostensible plausibility of the idea of intelligence as a determining force lies in the point that without intelligence certainly nothing goes. Quite independently of culture, mental deficiency means disability for any social existence – one must already be able to think in order to experience the pleasures of education, participation in social life, etc. Only this does not prove at all that what use somebody has with his mind would already be given with the ability to think.

The “conclusion” that intelligence is the cause, the reason for the exhibited act of mental reasoning, is not at all justified by the circumstance that someone who uses his intellect must possess intellect. Transferred to other – e.g. physical – requirements, the ridiculousness of mistaking condition and reason is seen immediately: a 5.5 tall person does not have the natural makings of a high-jumper because he lacks the physical condition for it. Only: should the reverse therefore be true, that someone who has the condition without which it is not possible becomes a high-jumper only because he is 6.5 or taller? Out of all the people who are tall, how many are high-jumpers for that reason?

4. Intelligence – this one has it, the other lacks it

“Undoubtedly, intelligence is a particularly important characteristic: numerous studies prove that a connection exists between the individual development of these variables and different criteria for advancement in societies with a western way of life. Those persons who can always be called ‘intelligent’ due to whatever factors as a rule correspond to the requirements of education and professional activity; turned around, a low intelligence reduces prospects for schooling, occupation, sex partners, etc.” (Amelang/Bartussek, p. 190)

Even if psychologists/educators know nothing else about intelligence, the groundless acceptance of an ability apparently lying behind all mental achievements is good for sorting people out. If people have different knowledge and skills, it indicates for the intelligence theorist that differences in ability are responsible. Conversely: the fact that someone is not proficient in something is supposed to show that he cannot do something. In principle, anyhow: indeed no intelligence theorist commits himself to the idea that a person will never know a certain thing only because he does not (as yet) know it. But it should already be valid that incomprehension refers to a limited ability for comprehension. Lack of knowledge, which suggests the need for education, here becomes proof of the superfluity or impossibility of further educational efforts!

However, psychologists and educators are actually able to criticize the deduction of a principal limitation of the mind/intellect based on a current inability to do something. Because nobody wants to state that somebody who is not proficient in integral calculus must fail at multiplication. Therefore individuals reveal a quite contradictory expression of the same ability: proficiency in multiplication demonstrates its availability, failure in integral calculus demonstrates its absence.

Intelligence theory upholds both of these mutually exclusive assignations precisely in that it quantifies the assertion: if somebody can count, but cannot integrate, then his mathematical intelligence is just too low to grasp integrals. And the circumference of the mathematical intelligence is supposedly determined by how many mathematical thoughts somebody can take in. Once this nonsense is taken seriously, every increase in knowledge would limit the learning possibilities of a person because every new thought absorbs some of the delimited intelligence. Above all, however, in the "quantity theory" of intelligence, completely disparate operations of thought – arithmetic, geometry, algebra, stochastics, etc. – become a statement about the quantitative parts of the same ability.

This is the basis of every intelligence test and the practical relevance which this discipline gladly boasts of. The psychologist poses tasks, sees which tasks the tested person solves correctly and which he doesn’t, and then makes a “diagnosis” about which intellectual achievement the concerned person is generally capable of, and which not. The achievements do not interest the psychologist in themselves: for him, it is not a matter of determining what one has “performed” and which mistakes one has made, but of allocating the achievements to abstract abilities such as, for example, “spatial ability,” “numerical ability,” “inductive reasoning,” in order at the end to deliver an overall score, a “mathematical” assessment of the “measured” intelligence. This allocation constructs an abstract common characteristic in the different skills of people which is indifferent to the specific quality of the respective achievement and consists solely in delivering a backdrop before which individuals differentiate themselves. The “quantity theory” of intelligence, along with the various intelligence tests, is owed solely to a need for assortment: when individuals possess different theoretical and practical skills, the intelligence theory immediately asks: how much can they know? – because it is a matter of classifying them into an imaginary scale of abilities.

5. Intelligence – the key to success in competition

“What intelligence ... may also be, always contributes its magnitude, which is ascribed to an individual, by determining his place in the hierarchical structure of his group.” (Roth, Intelligence – Fundamentals and Recent Research, Stuttgart 1998, p. 12)

From the expressed differences in knowledge and skills, the psychologist also deduces an inner hierarchy among the individuals. The thought is very bold, because this hierarchy does not appear in real differences at all: here individuals can only do a quite specific thing more or less well. How, however, can a good mathematician with two left hands, a mediocre pianist, a car nut who speaks Italian and a dyslexic who defeats every chess computer be brought into a hierarchy?

Where then does the intelligence theorist’s need to carry out an assortment of people by intelligence come from? He knows only the bourgeois world. Here differently educated people run around and access to the different levels in the hierarchy of occupations is settled by the education system. And, like many citizens, he is also convinced that everyone in the society is sorted – in principle – into the hierarchy of occupations in accordance with his ability and it is the task of schooling to find this out and assign to them their appropriate place.

It is undeniable that young people are pre-sorted by school into the hierarchy of occupations. Only its criterion is not for different, found abilities, but rather just the hierarchy of occupations themselves: how many graduates with higher educational qualifications are needed, how many middle, the rest have to qualify with junior college or high school. School produces educational differences in young people: it organizes an efficiency comparison in learned knowledge for students in order to differentiate them, and takes grades as a basis for the very fundamental assortment as to which students may participate in higher education and who is excluded from further knowledge.

Also, the hierarchy of occupations has no intelligence scale. Occupations consist of something that is very different from being intelligent: the content of the occupation and the occupations on offer are directed by the needs of the state and monetary power. So it is obviously important, e.g. for the occupation of university professor for intelligence research, not to subsume correct thoughts to intelligence, but rather to spread narrow-minded ideologies. It is precisely the opposite: the needs of state and capital define what is generally considered as intelligent.

Intelligence theory has its starting point in a moral interpretation of bourgeois society: everybody lands where he belongs because everybody is what he is made from and carries within himself the key to success, which is within his reach. Intelligence theory absolutizes this racism of competition in a certain way: it completely eliminates the social hierarchy of bourgeois society and constructs a new, purely human hierarchy of intelligence differences and IQs, cleansed of all social gradations, along which people sort themselves. This then is the scientific proof that what they are is what they have made of themselves in accord with the abilities which are in them. With the invention of an ability to know and its quantitative differentiation, the idea of a big key that one has in his individuality has assumed theoretical form. Then this idea is even capable of a socio-critical use: whether in this part of the world and elsewhere the potential keys are sufficiently forged for the success of the subjects and whether the society makes enough fitting locks available is the question which does not question social selection, but its perfection.