Intelligence : Oded Zipory

VI. Political imperatives derived from equality of intelligences

First of all, an intelligent person must know that as an individual his intelligence is neither inferior nor superior to anybody else’s, but he must also know that as a citizen, he is necessarily irrational, because citizenship, being a political structure, is based on the myth of inequality. In other words, the belief of the individual in equality of intelligences cannot be expressed in the form of an organization, an institution or a law, since they themselves are products of collective action and thus irrational.

Equality of intelligences should not be an incentive for the establishment of alternative social institutions, because these new institutions will, no lens volens, restore the logic of inequality. The preconceived notion of equality of intelligences is closely related to its verification, and it must be a repetitive, cyclic act.32 If one desires to maintain his belief in radical equality, he must resist the temptation to institutionalize equality in an attempt to make it more stable and lasting. It would be better to understand equality not as a political right or an institution, but as “a practice that cuts across the logic of social institutions.”33

Intelligent people recognize moments when a “community of equals” occurs. Although equality cannot be institutionalized, it can, nevertheless, take the form of the verification of its hypothesis. In other words, even if society as a whole is not intelligent, it does not mean rational moments are impossible. Rancière says that the first retirement of the plebeians to the Aventine Hill outside the city of Rome is such a moment. The logic that drove the plebeians into leaving the city was that of inequality and of an alleged inferiority compared to the patricians, but the result of what can be seen as a kind of ancient “general strike” can show the viability of an event of equality.

Menenius Agrippa, the Roman senator who spoke to the plebeians did something unthinkable—he recognized their intellectual ability as matching his. It was thus that the struggle of the plebeians to verify the presupposition of equality had significant effects. This is not a victory of the social class, which as a group cannot be fully emancipated or rational, and of course making plebeian struggle official could not have created egalitarian institutions and norms. Nevertheless, every single plebeian felt that the senator’s speech was directed at his intelligence and knew that he had a full right to apply it.34 The presupposition of equal intelligences creates events in which actual equality is taking place. Even if it is only for a short moment, a community of equally intelligent individuals who are trying to understand each other can become a reality. However, this community cannot be material, institutional, or normative: “it occurs, but it has no place.”35

As an educational method, the idea of “equality of intelligences” has no place as well. Not only is having a place not its purpose, but as all pedagogy is already a kind of a social institution, it entails inequality. The only practice suitable for an emancipated individual is to declare that his point of departure is that all intelligences are equal, and to try verifying this hypothesis in any social circumstance he encounters. For Rancière the equality of intelligences exists only when we are making an effort to verify it in point of fact. The person that views his own intelligence as equal to that of others may find this to be true—he will understand others and be understood by them. Against Bourdieu, who proves the existence of inequality—and because of this he is destined to find it again and again—Rancière puts equality as the starting point of educational or political action: 

It is true we don’t know that men are equal. We are saying that they might be, and we are trying, along with those who think as we do, to verify it.36

The practice of verifying equality casts off the necessity of explanation in general and especially that of social institutions. Even more specifically, it rejects the explanation for inequality itself. Regarding this Ranciere believes that it is very problematic to place a contradiction between science and ideology as a “theory of discourse that claims to tell the truth about what is performed by political and social actors, while they did not think about this truth or could not think of it.”37 In other words, what should be examined is the scientific logic, mainly found in sociology, which seeks to understand how the system creates mystifications while concealing their existence. According to this there is a crucial political role for this understanding, as it seems the key to liberation and equality is in his hands. The scientific knowledge produced by the sociologist is extremely important for all those lower-ranking people, because they are not able to understand the ways in which they are excluded and controlled exactly because they are under control.

Since the system does not allow the excluded to specialize and produce their own knowledge, it seems that sociological knowledge can indeed help them understand their own reality, but in fact, this knowledge only strengthens their inferiority. According to Ranciere, this scientific knowledge does not lead to equality or emancipation at all, indeed its high degree of resemblance to the inequality between the stultifying teacher, and his students, is not a coincidence here. Just as the teacher, who creates hierarchical distance between himself and his students with the provision of an explanation, so does the sociologist (or the political activist in some cases) in his explanation. The Necessity he attributes to the inability of the poor to understand their living conditions is no less severe than biological necessity, and it certainly seems to make more sense.


I have described in this article three concepts of intelligence. The first and the second were the sociological and the biological-psychological intelligence, which are mainly engaged in inequality between individuals and groups, and seek to explain it, each from its standpoint and limitations. The third concept was that of “equal intelligence,” which starts by presupposing equality and tries to verify its existence. Ultimately, this article also teaches very little about the individual’s ability for thinking or solving problems, but is concerned with the differences, if any, between the ability of one mind and another. The answer that is given in the article to the question “What is intelligence?” is that intelligence is one of the concepts which seeks to define intellectual ability, and its uniqueness lies in that it seeks to explain the tension between this intellectual ability and the social order in which it operates.

I believe that Jacotot, followed by Ranciere, preferred to continue calling the phenomenon that they examined in a name which is so radically related to inequality—intelligence, because, although it was not said explicitly, they desired to attack the main issue in dispute—the question of equality itself. Clearly, the critical presupposition of equality of intelligences has no place in a social reality if that were already equal. Indeed, Ranciere and Jacotot placed it precisely in a society that classifies, measures, evaluates numerically, being determined, thus, to prove that intelligences are nothing but equal. Choosing to speak about equality while using the word intelligence is important, as this use does not allow an escape route for the question of equality, placing it rather at the center of the dissuasion regarding intelligence. Ranciere does not want to know how the mind works or what understanding is; he just takes this question insofar as it reflects on the notion or possibility of equality.

To a large extent, I accept the assumption that an explanation is not necessary for understanding, so I would like to see this article not as an explanation of Ranciere’s or Jacotot’s thought, but as another translation of their concept of intelligence, which was formulated by my desire to share with the reader the “sense of truth” that the encounter with the presupposition of the equality of intelligences has made me feel. In other words, it was born from a desire to tell a story.

The storyteller assumes that the intelligence of his listeners equals his own; he does not need to prove that all the listeners have sufficient ability to comprehend him and he must use his intelligence carefully so his audience would understand him. Among the various definitions for intelligence, there may be a possible debate as to which definition is more accurate or more useful, but I think that in conclusion, it is better to invite the reader’s intelligence to work and ask the simple, yet radical, question, which lies at the heart of any emancipatory practice: What do you think about that?


Oded Zipory is a PhD candidate in Philosophy of Education in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University


Published on February 1, 2014

32. Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso, 1995), 83.

33. Jacques Rancière, “Against an Ebbing Tide: An Interview with Jacques Rancière,” in Reading Rancière: Critical Dissensus, ed. Paul Bowman (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 239.

34. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 93-97.

35. Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, 91.

36. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 73.

37. Jacques Rancière, “Le maître ignorant: Entretien avec Rancière,”
Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 30:2 (2009): 139.

« Previous //