Smart but not wise

People in the top 10 percent in intelligence will be the nation’s leaders in “medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia,” writes Charles Murray in his third and final Opinion Journal column. (Part one and part two have sparked lively debates.) He advocates a classical education for the very smart.

The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.

The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.

All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today’s schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments.

I strongly favor being judgmental. It’s what brains are for.

But once again I suspect Murray is writing off people who have the capacity for leadership but may not have the kind of intelligence that leads to a very high IQ score. Business leaders typically come from the ranks of B and C students, or so I’ve read.

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Comments

  1. Surely Murray doesn’t mean to suggest that Aristotle, Confucius, etc are not understandable by people of average intelligence? Or does he?

  2. I am a scientist, a field full of very smart people but it is typically not the smartest who are the most successful. The most successful are those who are motivated and work hard, the ones that want it the most. Brains alone are not guarantee of success in any field. It doesn’t surprise me that Murray thinks that leaders come from the ranks of the smartest 10%. If you need proof, look at the very un-smart president we currently have.

  3. The story that business leaders “typically come from the ranks of B and C students” is not true. That is a story that academics and journalists tell each other to console themselves over the much lower salaries that they receive compared to executives.

    It is true that IQs of corporate executives are lower than college professors, but that reflects the one dimensional skill set required to be, say, a physicist rather than someone who must manage other people, complete sales etc. As Warren Buffett has said about being a money manager, you need to be smart (IQ of 120-130), but being a genius will not give you any additional advantage. Above a certain level, wisdom is more important than additional intelligence.

  4. Richard Cook says:

    Sound like he does. Well, I guess the entire Penguin Classics series, started in 1930 to bring Plato, et. al. to us commoners was for naught.

  5. judg·men·tal (jj-mntl)
    adj.
    1. Of, relating to, or dependent on judgment: a judgmental error.
    2. Inclined to make judgments, especially moral or personal ones:

    So you think your morals and opinions are right and everybody else is wrong…and thats why the world hates your type! After the last election didn’t you get the smallest clue?

  6. “but that reflects the one dimensional skill set required to be, say, a physicist rather than someone who must manage other people, complete sales etc.”

    What would that complicated skill set of the above average sales guy be? Speaking english and the ability to use a phone?

    A physicist has to know phycics, chemistry, high-level mathematics and usually computer programming skills. Just they can’t chat you up about the latest sporting event or lie to you while looking you in the eye doesn’t mean that their skill set is limited or “one dimensional”.

  7. “It is true that IQs of corporate executives are lower than college professors”…I’m not sure this is true. It depends on which field you are selecting the college professors from.

    I’ll give you that the average physics professor has a higher IQ than the average F500 CEO, but I doubt if the same statement can be made about the average journalism (“communications”) professor. And then there’s the ed school….

  8. MadMatt, if I thought my judgments were wrong — for example, if someone persuaded me that I’d ignored facts or reasoned incorrectly — I’d change my mind. Abuse rarely is persuasive, however.

    I don’t think the last election showed that people shouldn’t learn to make sound judgments. If you like the results, you should argue the election shows voters are judging better than they have in the past six years.

    I received another comment that asserts conservatives are liars who hate intelligent people. I’m not going to approve it, which is a necessary step for new commenters, because it’s off topic. And stupid.

  9. Carter LeBlanc says:

    Just a few observations on this line of conversation:

    When Mr foster says, “Surely Murray doesn’t mean to suggest that Aristotle, Confucius, etc are not understandable by people of average intelligence? Or does he?”

    He misses the point. It is not that people of average intelligence can’t understand aristotle or confucious, it’s that people of above average intelleigence should recieve additional training in ethics and critical thinking.

    As far as comparative IQs between scientists and CEOs, it should be remembered that although the occational brilliant visionary has managed to place themselves at the top of the corporate ladder, it is social skill (sometimes described as “Emotional Intelligence”) that tends to be the determining factor in the business world. Good salesmen and managers aren’t neccesarily geniuses, they’re just better at interacting with others.

    As far as Richard Cook’s comment “I guess the entire Penguin Classics series, started in 1930 to bring Plato, et. al. to us commoners was for naught.”

    As an avid reader I usually have a book with me at all times (penguin classics are great for that) and over and over again people lament to me that they “wish they read more”. But they dont. Even most college students avoid reading more than is absolutely manditory. People spend so much time drinking in bars, watching tv, and messing around on the internet that they never get around to actually reading books. (It’s a broad generalization, but it’s an accurate one)

  10. It is true that IQ of leaders are above normal but not exceptional. However it is also true that they did not learn the leadership skill from college. Bush, Kerry (probably Gore too, who refused to reveal his academic record) are mediocre student at Yale, that does not prevent them from becoming what they are today. Even better example is Cheney, who quickly flunked out of Yale, a very rare event at Yale. Without his Yale education, he is still what he is today.

  11. Carter..yes, I understood his point. What *he* doesn’t seem understand is that many people of ordinary IQs find themselves in leadership positions. Are the moral dilemmas encountered by a salesman or a factory foreman really different *in kind* from those encounted by a CEO? And in a democracy, don’t we want all voters to be serious moral thinkers?

    This discussion reminds me of an interesting article about the hunger for learning among members of the British working class in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  12. Bush and Kerry were mediocre students at Yale; Gore was a mediocre student at Harvard. (Kerry, not Gore, has been the most coy about his academic records.) Bush went on to get a Harvard MBA, Kerry to get a law degree at Boston College, Gore to flunk out of law school and divinity school (probably through lack of interest) and Cheney to earn a PhD at University of Wisconsin.

    Arguably, Bush was a social leader at Yale and Kerry a political leader. There’s even a very early Doonesbury cartoon by Garry Trudeau, a classmate, mocking Kerry’s political ambitions when he was an undergrad.

    I talked to Gore three or four times when I was on the San Jose Mercury News editorial board. He seemed to be a man of average intelligence. Clinton, who came by once during his first campaign, came across as very sharp. The others I never met, though I’m told Bush’s social intelligence is sky-high, even higher than Reagan’s. I did get to talk to Reagan, again during his first presidential campaign. His charm was awesome. The most liberal edit board members couldn’t believe how much they liked Reagan. They were just stunned. If there’s such a thing as social IQ, Reagan was a genius.

  13. Walter E. Wallis says:

    and they don’t let just any one fly the Delta Dagger. I believe Kerry has a Private pilot license and Gore still has training wheels on his trike. Gore’s daughter is a producer of Futurama, one of my all time favorites. She takes after Tipper, I guess.
    JJ is to be congratulated for having lasted as long as she did with a Lou Grant actalike. He managed to drive me away after a 20 year subscription.

  14. Greg Barton says:

    “I strongly favor being judgmental. It’s what brains are for.”

    Nah, it’s what small brains are for.

    I’m one of them 10 percenters. In fact, I’m a 1 percenter according to my IQ score. Being judgmental is rarely necessary in my experience. I can see many sides to any issue, so there’s no need to limit myself to just one. And don’t counter with the, “but you can’t act unless you judge” line. Just ain’t true.

  15. Devil's Advocate says:

    “The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments.” What authority defines “accurate judgement”?

    “I strongly favor being judgmental. It’s what brains are for.”
    Wrong. Brains are for exploring alternatives to the established “truth”.

    Ph.D. students in all fields are trained to consider all scholarly research on a topic and are supposed to make up their mind based on considerable research and to be able to justify their opinions. They are not supposed to be judgemental: they are expected to be intellectually honest. And they will be ripped apart by their colleagues if they try to manipulate data or theories to make judgemental decisions. Intellectual honesty explicitly precludes judgement.

  16. I was once taught the “theory of the seven skills”, which argues that there are seven fundamental human “talents”. I paraphrase, in no particular order:

    1. Verbal (i.e. written or oral communication)
    2. Logical (i.e. mathematics, science)
    3. Charismatic (i.e. social influence)
    4. Athletic
    5. Musical
    6. Visual (i.e. artistic)
    7. Maternal (i.e. caregiving)

    Proponents of this theory argue the following:
    => Each one of us is endowed with some degree of each of these skills. Generally, people who have exceptional levels of any of these are valued highly by society. (It does not take too much thought to come up with examples.)
    => In order to be successful and to feel fulfilled in one’s life, one must identify and develop those skills which he is naturally blessed with.
    => Thus, it is the responsibility of society to educate all members in each of these skills, and to allow members to pursue those skills towards which they are most inclined.
    => In order to be an effective leader in any given field, that person must possess some above-average measure of the skills most valued in that field.
    => Becoming a leader is a personal choice, not a skill.

    One could argue that Bush possesses very high levels of skill in charisma and verbal communication (despite his abuse of the English language.) His logic skills, IMHO, are utterly lacking. Certainly he is ambitious. Unfortunately, this combination makes him very dangerous.

    I would argue that we need political leaders who are advanced in most, if not all, of the skills (i.e. perhaps music and athletics are not relevant in politics). We will only identify those individuals if we attempt to teach all of the skills to all people and encourage those with many skills to lead. To suggest that only the “top 10%” should receive advanced education is not completely incorrect, but if you’re only measuring one or two of the skills – which is what our education system tends to do – you’re likely to end up with undesireable results.

  17. 1. Of, relating to, or dependent on judgment: [example].

    Devil’s advocate –
    How can you claim that brains are not for things that depend upon judgement?

    You can use the silly existential / nihhilistic argument that there is no truth. Or you can accept that there exist accurate judgements – judgements that match the real universe to a great degree.

    Of course, if you judge that there is no such thing as an accurate judgement, then please don’t be offended if I then judge you to be an overeducated moron. In that hypothetical case I might be wrong, but it would seems to fit the hypothetical facts.

    But really, in actuality your third paragraph can be simplified to this –

    Ph.D. students are trained to use their judgement and to consider all scholarly research. A Ph.D. student is supposed to be judgemental (meaning 1), not judgemental (meaning 2).

    Your decision to elide the two meanings does not erase the existence of the first meaning.

  18. Devil's Advocate says:

    Whatever, Twill00,

    You clearly have never been around academics, and you have no clues about intellectual honesty.

    Believe whatever you want. Who cares? You are just another ignorant blob.

  19. Murray’s arguing in generalities. Nowhere does he state that one particular IQ will guarantee success or failure. He’s speaking of a spectrum where the lower one’s IQ is the less likely one is to be a success at certain intellectual endeavors. Of course IQ isn’t everything. But pretending anyone can accomplish important intellectual work only through sheer effort will doom many to mediocrity when they could have achieved higher success in any number of areas. It’s poor logic to use political figures one doesn’t like to prove that intelligence has little to do with success in highly demanding intellectual fields.

    And Murray isn’t using judgmental language. He isn’t saying that the smartest people are the best people or even the most useful. He’s saying that many people are being led to waste their efforts on degrees and careers based on what society currently values the most, rather than choosing paths that could lead to greater satisfaction and success.

  20. “Devil’s Advocate” says in one comment:

    “Intellectual honesty explicitly precludes judgement”

    and, in another comment, referring to a participant here, says:

    “You are just another ignorant blob”

  21. What do you define as intelligence? Is it in a test or in an opportunity to produce? If it’s the latter, then what do you do when the opportunities of youth are dependant upon taking test? Does that mean that intelligence is redefined or our we missing the truly gifted in regimentalized tests, thus squandering our best and brightest by trying to fit them into generic and not-so productive group as the ‘talented tenth?’

    Is Adlai Stevenson – with a high IQ and the best education- more genius than Henry Ford, a barely literate high school drop out? And who did more for society?

    Your post is vague and doesn’t really address what you mean by ‘intelligence’ or ‘judgement,’ words which have been twisted around by social Darwinists in the last few centuries to commit very pernicious and evil acts on people.

    Andre Gide said ‘pursue truth, but be very wary of anyone who claims to have found it.’ Moral certainty and unshakeable faith is one of the surest signs of not knowing enough.

  22. Good observation David!

    And … if intellectual honesty results in no judgments, then it’s a colossal fraud and serves no practical purposes. Intellectual honesty has to lead to judgements, and hopefully their conclusions are more accurate and realistic than those made by people lacking intellectual honesty.

  23. –but may not have the kind of intelligence that leads to a very high IQ score.

    Ms. Jacobs,

    precisely “what kind of intelligence” is it that leads to a very high IQ score?

    Study after study shows that the g factor is real. Study after study shows that higher IQ people are better at a breadth and wealth of tasks than lower IQ people are. Higher IQ people can more easily recall relevant facts, reason about their tasks in relation to those facts, make improvements, anticipate, plan.

    Do you really think that business executives with average IQs –taken as a group–are just as innovative, visionary, practical, competent at managing people and money as those bus execs with higher IQs? Based on what?

  24. Aurin,

    You said, “Moral certainty and unshakeable faith is one of the surest signs of not knowing enough. ”

    You sound very certain of that.

  25. greifer…my experience is that high abstract intelligence (which is presumably measured by IQ) is indeed important for executives, especially when the organization is very large and/or the market/technology are rapidly changing. However, there are lots of other characteristics that are important, including decisiveness, communications ability, resilience, and emotional intelligence.

    See my post Readin’, Writin’, and The Business Shtick for a discussion of presumably-high-IQ MBAs who can’t communicate effectively.

  26. Wayne Martin says:

    I wonder how many people would choose a mate based on his/her IQ?

  27. —However, there are lots of other characteristics that are important, including decisiveness, communications ability, resilience, and emotional intelligence.

    so you actually believe that taken as a group, lower IQ people are as good at decisiveness, communicating, resilience, and emotional intelligence as higher IQ people?

    based ON WHAT evidence do you distinguish these skills from higher IQs? the data shows that these skills are ALSO improved with IQ. do you really not understand that?

  28. Pat Dolan says:

    Here are a few judgments:

    1. Intelligence tests measure the ability to take intelligence tests. Everything else is correlation, which is not the same thing. (Remember what Stanford did when women scored higher than men on the initial Binet Test?) Ask anyone who works on the things. They’re useful, but the predict (for example) college grades far less reliably than other things. And it’s a consensus in these comments that college success doesn’t necessarily entail life success, a consensus that seems obviously right to me.

    2. Charles Murray does not know what he’s talking about when he talks about statistics, standarized tests, intelligence, IQ, race or meritocracy. My spouse took a graduate degree in Educational Measurement and Statistics. When the Bell Curve came out, you could tell when the statisticians and test designers were talking about it by the derisive laughter. If you think all or most education school faculty are stupid (some are), you think the designers of IQ tests are stupid.

    3. George W. Bush may have tremendous social skills. By all accounts Ronald Reagan did. If you include these things in a measure of intelligence, number 1 above becomes even more accurate.

    4. George W. Bush’s policies have been a disaster for the United States, the Middle East and the world. (Others differ with this judgment, but it’s a judgment lots of so-called relativists make with a high degree of confidence.)

    5. If you read Plato, Aristotle and the western philosophical tradition well (not to mention the philosophical and religious traditions of the rest of the world), you’ll probably come away with greater humility about your judgments than you started with. (I did, as have most humanities professors.)

    6. If you read the world philosophical tradition well, you’ll be less likely to call people relativists when their epistemological positions are more nuanced than simple Pyrrhonism.

    7. My guess is that George W. Bush and Charles Murray haven’t read broadly in the world’s philosophy, and my judgment is that if they’ve done so, they haven’t done so well.

    8. I think we’d all be better off if more people spent more time reading philosophy, and less time doing most of what they do now, especially making war.

  29. These skills may *corrrelate* with IQ, but that doesn’t mean that it would be reasonable to use IQ as a proxy for them in individual hiring decisions. Fred may have an IQ of 140 and be very indecisive, whereas Sandra may have an IQ of 130 and have a strong track record of decision-making under pressure.

    I’ve seen data recently suggesting that height correlates with IQ, at least in the US. If this is correct, does it mean one could just measure the height of applicants and not bother with other criteria?

    Surely you are not suggesting that the hiring of, say, a sales manager or a graphic arts designer should be based entirely on IQ? Or are you?

  30. Wayne Martin says:

    > especially making war ..

    Tell that to: Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, the Prophet Mohammed, Napoleon Bonaparte, Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Emperor Tojo, Josef Stalin, Mao Tze Tung, Pol Pot, Kim Jung Il, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Osama Bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

  31. “Judgemental” is one of those words that has so much semantic baggage and such widely varying connotations that any use of this word that doesn’t nail down the parameters is at best going to elicit spirited debate, and at worst be completely counterproductive.

    This discussion reminds me of Bill O’Reilly’s question to David Letterman: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq? … It’s an easy question…” and Letterman’s response: “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

    Whether a judgement is good or bad is entirely dependent on what leads up to it. Thus, being “judgemental” can be brilliant, or idiotic, or anything in between.

    I suspect that people who see the word as positive have taken the Myers Briggs test and found themselves to be “judgemental” rather than “perceptive.”

  32. Indigo Warrior says:

    Ben:

    One could argue that Bush possesses very high levels of skill in charisma and verbal communication (despite his abuse of the English language.) His logic skills, IMHO, are utterly lacking. Certainly he is ambitious. Unfortunately, this combination makes him very dangerous.

    What are his D&D stats?

  33. Indigo Warrior says:

    CASher:

    “Judgemental” is one of those words that has so much semantic baggage and such widely varying connotations that any use of this word that doesn’t nail down the parameters is at best going to elicit spirited debate, and at worst be completely counterproductive.

    “Judgemental” is one of those words (like the related “discriminating”) that has been made bad. There is nothing wrong with being judgemental itself; it’s part of living. What is more important is the nature and details of the judgment.

  34. Indigo Warrior says:

    Why should the gifted, visionary, self-regulating people have an exceptional onus to be nice and/or good? They are usually not the ones who harm others by their actions. As started by many other comments here, the leaders of society are rarely the gifted ones. (Nor are they dummies; personal experience bears out they are usually the B-students at school.)

    I believe Mr. (not Dr.) Spock said something like this, “I care not who runs the universe. What makes it run is what fascinates me.”

  35. Pat Dolan said “Charles Murray does not know what he’s talking about when he talks about statistics, standarized tests, intelligence, IQ, race or meritocracy.”, this is true. I always hear that the book bell curve = racism. I was surprised one day reading an article with a paragraph about an academic who praised the book. So I decided to look further in the matter. If you look at Amazon book reviews (OK, not exactly an authority either), they are positive with title like “Not the book they told you it was”.

    Richard Herrnstein was a Harvard psychology professor with a long distinguished career. Undoubtedly he is the main author of the book. On the other hand, Charles Murray is a political scientist and policy writer. He was co-author probably because Herrstein’s health prevented him from writing such a big book by himself. Murray probably also is responsible for the public policy part of the book. When the book came out, it was attacked by the popular press and some academics. Unfortunately Herrstein died and Murray was one defending it. Then 52 professors, including many researchers in that area signed a statement supporting the book. The controversy became so great that the American Psychology Association established a task force to look in the matter. The task force finding agreed with many of the main statements of the book. Of course then there is attack on the report. Still, this is a book that cannot be dismissed with derisive laughter.

    Unfortunately, Murray, who is now more political commentator rather than researcher, and who is not the main author of the book, had became synonymous with the book. His political opinion now carries the authority of the author of a major book.

  36. Since Confucius was mentioned, we may as well talk about his opinion on this subject. Confucius was very clear on this, he would teach anyone who is willing to be educated (I think the fine print says “and pays the fee” but I am not going to verify whether that is really in there.) The smart one would understand the subject quickly. The not so smart one would take more time and effort, but they would eventually get it if they put in the effort. This has a deep influence on Chinese education policy up to today. With hard work, even the not so smart can master the subject.

    Of course they did not have string theory back then.

  37. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Will reading philosophy put out a forest fire?

  38. “so you actually believe that taken as a group, lower IQ people are as good at decisiveness, communicating, resilience, and emotional intelligence as higher IQ people?” I know that a good many people with IQ’s not far above 100 are far better at these things than some university professors I have encountered.

  39. Has a single one of you claiming “Murray doesn’t know what he’s talking about” actually read The Bell Curve? Of those who have, have any of you actually read the cited works?

  40. so you actually believe that taken as a group, lower IQ people are as good at decisiveness, communicating, resilience, and emotional intelligence as higher IQ people?” I know that a good many people with IQ’s not far above 100 are far better at these things than some university professors I have encountered.

    STRAW MAN ALERT!

    1. When did I ever say a university prof is smart, or above average, or of high IQ?

    2. I know many people better at a lot of things than “some” of every category. so what–it’s still anecdotal.

    3. I am not saying that certain weirdos of IQ 160 are better st communicating than fellows of IQ 130. I’m talking about a statistical set of IQ 120s or 110s vs. 100s or 90s. I’m talking about actual data.

    if you want to argue with me, argue with what I am actually saying.

  41. It doesn’t surprise me that Murray thinks that leaders come from the ranks of the smartest 10%. If you need proof, look at the very un-smart president we currently have.

    I know that it’s fun taking potshots at the present president, but he gets included in that cohort (if one agrees with Murray’s rating of ‘g’) — Bush’s test scores put him in the top five percent of the population, in terms of IQ.

    It’s just that being in the top five percent of the population isn’t so great at places like Yale or Harvard.

    A better criticism of the president, if one felt like making one, would be that he might be smart (as many/most of our politicians are, when it comes down to it) but that he isn’t wise — that his judgment is off.

    ***

    I’ll just note that Murray’s listing of professions in which we are stuck with the top ten percent is one that includes the ones with high entry standards, i.e. grade and test score barriers. Business and politics are excluded from that, though he notes that high IQ sorts still have the lion’s share of positions there too.

    That’s the society we’ve built.

  42. Colorado Jack says:

    The word “judgmental” is often used to describe someone who makes a judgment that he or she is utterly certain is right. But you can make a judgment without that level of certainty. In fact, all the time we make judgments while recognizing the possibility we may be wrong. For example, I regard the evidence for anthropogenic global warming as compelling, and will therefore vote for and support politicians who want to act on the problem. But I know it is possible that I am wrong. The consensus of scientists has been wrong before.

    An earlier poster said that you don’t have to be judgmental to make a decision. Subject to clarification, that seems wrong to me. You don’t have to be judgmental in the pejorative sense, but you do have to make a judgment. An intelligent decision will often include a Plan “B” if it turns out your judgment is wrong. But the decision still rests on a judgment. To take a topical example, if you are pondering whether to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq, you ought to make a judgment whether they will do any good. And certainty, one way or the other, will not be available.

  43. Walter E. Wallis says:

    A judgement suggests selecting among alternatives. For instance if you chose to abandon the war against our Islamic enemies then you chose the alternative of dhimmihood.