Intelligence : Oded Zipory

IV. Equality of intelligences as a presupposition

Jacotot does not suggest that we change the practices of teaching in order to make them more efficient. His motivation is rather to attain emancipation through the recognition of the equality of all intelligences and nothing more:

That every common person might conceive his human dignity, take the measure of his intellectual capacity and decide how to use it . . . Whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies. And whoever emancipates doesn’t have to worry about the emancipated. He will learn what he wants, nothing maybe. He will know he can learn because the same intelligence is at work in all the productions of the human mind, and a man can always understand another man’s words . . . This matter was thus clear. This was not a method for instructing the people; it was a benefit to be announced to the poor: they could do everything any man could. It sufficed only to announce it.25

The advantageous and desirable point here is not so much pedagogical, as it is political, and, in practical fact, it means an absolute equality among intelligences. Why do Jacotot and Rancière reach this conclusion, and in what precise way do they adopt and change the problematic concept of intelligence?

Rancière notes three facts that in themselves cannot explain inequality. First, he mentions the fact that humans are able to do things that animals cannot do. Humans also have a language with which they interact with each other. This fact could be called by another name, and one could say that humans have “intelligence.” Of course, by naming this behavior, one does not add any information to our knowledge nor does it explain anything of essence, and yet there is no reason not to do it. The second fact is that people growing up perform the same tasks with the same intentions behind them and more or less in the same manner. We can say that they have equal intelligence. The third fact is that adults do not perform the same intellectual challenges and tasks, and they do not achieve the same degree of success. And indeed, everywhere you look—even if not through intelligence testing—it can be easily seen that people are not equal in their intellectual performances. The previous assumption of equality of intelligence remains a mere expression of opinion, and probably not even a correct one.

For Rancière and Jacotot, the claim that “all intelligences are equal” is not to say the truth but something else. Verifying this hypothesis is problematic because intelligence cannot be isolated or measured, unlike a hypothesis, for example, in chemistry or physics, where the phenomenon can easily be compared to others. Intelligence is recognized only by its outcome, so in order to examine the hypothesis that all intelligences are equal, one must first check if there are any facts that disprove it.

The first argument that seeks to refute the supposition of equality of intelligences is very simple—in nature, there are no two identical entities. Out of thousands of leaves fallen from a tree, no two are alike. So surely the same can be said about intelligences. An experiment that might substantiate this thesis would also be very simple: two identical twins that grew up in the same home and at the same school take an intelligence test and get different results. Seemingly, even under the same circumstances, intelligences are different and one is higher than the other. Rancière argues that deducing from leaves to intelligence is wrong, since leaves are material and intelligence is not, and certainly it cannot be reduced to “brain” as in craniology.

In fact, even those proclaiming themselves as having high intelligence do not rely on some material advantage, but attribute it to a difference of a transcendent kind.26 Moreover, if the advantage of one person over another in intelligence would have been indeed material, and therefore, clearly visible, the superior brain’s authority over the inferior’s one would have been natural and similar to the authority of humans over the animals they own. If that were the case, superiority would have been self-evident, just like an advantage in physical strength. There would have been no need for laws, institutions, and endless explanations to the alleged natural fact regarding the inevitable hierarchic difference in intelligence. If that were true, the superior intelligence would simply never encounter any substantial opposition.27

Even so, the difference between the identical twins still demands some explanation. It could be said that one had higher intelligence than the other, but that demonstrates nothing except that one twin had worked faster or harder than the other and thus got better results. As mentioned, intelligence is just a name, and defining the difference in performance between the twins as a difference in intelligence does not add any new information; indeed, the difference in intelligence, while disguising itself as the cause of the difference between the two in terms of performance, frees us from the need to look after the real reason for the difference in question. Another possible assumption could be that the two intelligences were not exercised equally, and this hypothesis also cannot be proven:

I will not say that one’s faculties are inferior to the other’s. I will only suppose that the two faculties haven’t been equally exercised. Nothing proves this to me with certainty. But nothing proves the opposite. It is enough for me to know that this lack of exercise is possible, and that many experiments attest to it. I will thus displace the tautology very slightly. I will not say that he has done less because he is less intelligent. I will say that he has perhaps produced a poorer work because he has worked more poorly. That he has not seen well because he hasn’t looked well. I will say that he has brought less attention to his work.28

Attention is exactly what can be used in order to examine the outcomes of intelligence. Attention in itself is not material, but its effects are, and they can be measured and quantified. It can be assumed that the two brothers have equal intelligence, but that the amount of attention they give when using it is not equal. Babies and small children exercise a great deal of attention trying to understand and join the grown-up world. Their need is urgent, and it motivates them to galvanize their intelligence with full attention.

It is only later that a difference between the needs of one child and another starts to develop, and accordingly, the amount of attention given changes. That is the main reason why the sensitive question about intelligence’s origin—whether it is natural-hereditary or environmental-cultural—is not very fruitful. Rancière argues that the effects of intelligence are settled by the need and the will, and when the needs become smaller then intelligence becomes “tired.” That is, the individual does not pay attention to things and stops inquiring into and comparing, unless new and wearing conditions are created for him (by a change in his needs or by a teacher) and he is forced to continue to use his intelligence.

25. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 51.

26. It is important not to confuse this specific transcendent advantage with “spirit” at all. Those with high intelligence may recognize the existence of the soul or the existence of some values of a spiritual nature that cannot be measured. They can even say insofar as these values are concerned, all people are equal, and the ignorant can even set a model for the educated.

27. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 46-48.

28. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 50.

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