White, J. (2008)
‘Illusory Intelligences’, in Journal
Philosophy of Education, Vol. 42, No. 3-4: 611–630.
linguistic, musical, logico-mathematical, spatial, bodily kinaesthetic,
interpersonal, to which have now been added naturalist and possibly
proposes that these
intelligences arise from his attempt to apply certain prerequisites. Intelligences must indicate a general ability
widespread among human cultures. White
says this is already a problem—all human cultures or just some? He also does not like the first example which
is rejected—the ability to recognise human faces. This
is the first example of what seems to be
arbitrary choice at the heart of
Then there are
problems with these criteria, principally the idea that there is a
in intelligences. This is misleading,
because human abilities do not develop in the same way in which
faculties do: they might change and grow, but not in a preordained way
unfolding of some quality. To apply
developmentalism here is to imply that there is some upper end state, a
ceiling. This leaves Gardner with the need to define what he means by
and this is inevitably subjective, depending on value judgments. Gardner does try to obtain objectivity by
suggesting that evil tyrants can also display a maturity, but this then
invalidates the prerequisite.
potential isolation of the
area by brain damage
the existence in it of
idiots savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals
an identifiable core
operation/set of operations
a distinctive developmental
history, along with a definable set of
an evolutionary history and
support from experimental
support from psychometric
susceptibility to encoding
in a symbol system (Gardner, 1983, pp. 62–9).
problems with the idea of encoding in a symbol system.
Gardner depends on another writer, Goodman,
here. In general terms, there is also an ambiguity about the symbol: in
sense it means expressing emotion, but in another it has a more
meaning as in a mathematical symbol.
idea of brain damage and brain localisation, which he says are
Gardner’s developmentalism. White denies
that idiots savants possessed distinct kinds of intelligences, and
concept of a particular mental facility to describe their unusual
criteria are far from easy to applying without invoking subjective
meanings. They seem to depend on
particular theories of developmentalism and symbolisation. Gardner
seems to suggest that not all the criteria are crucial anyway, but
majority of them. He admits that it is a
matter of judgement, indeed, artistic judgment, whether to admit a
not. Nevertheless, Gardner insists he is
doing science, and not offering some kind of philosophical account of
knowledge. Gardner has tried to reply to
White’s criticism here by suggesting the whole scheme is tentative, a
first step to be confirmed by later work, but this is not enough for
points out that the whole thing might be misplaced.
White says he finds no strong arguments in
Gardner to defend this particular choice of criteria.
White proposes to
explain Gardner’s by looking at the intellectual influences that
approach. He was interested in Piaget
and structuralism, for example, which explains the developmentalism. However, he saw symbols as important to
innovation and creativity, borrowing from structuralism the idea that
basic codes which can produce innovative combinations.
Goodman supplied the necessary symbol theory:
Gardner used it to extend Piaget into the Arts.
Of course, both Piaget and Goodman have been much
criticised. Interests in the other areas
Gardner’s participation in a project to extend human potential at
Harvard—Gardner was the social psychologist on the team.
Further doubts with subjective judgments were
aroused in the course of this work, Gardner admits, and he flirted with
other than ‘intelligence’ to describe human accomplishments. However, he resisted the idea of forms of
knowledge because that seemed too philosophical and a priori. Gardner wanted to base his theory on
The extension of
original model to include naturalistic and existential intelligence
reveals its arbitrary nature. The idea
here was simply to try to expand the scheme to incorporate all human
forms of knowledge approach, denying that the categories just merge out
empirical study. Gardner wants to modify
his approach in later work to separate the intelligence, the capacity,
domain, the area in which it is applied.
But this introduces incoherence, since the whole
approach depends on the
biological and psychological being closely linked to the social. Now they are potentially separated, with the
symbolic relocated to the domain, the social aspects of intelligence. However, the criteria remain unchanged, and
they feature the symbolic as part of the biological and psychological
central in Gardner himself, the educational implications have been
and the theory of multiple intelligences has been eagerly adopted by
teachers. White is not denying that
there have been useful improvements in dethroning the idea of a central
intelligence measured by IQ, and in allowing greater diversity. However, there is no need to adopt Gardner’s
multiple intelligences to justify this practice. Indeed,
it might be even more satisfying to
suggest there are more than just the seven kinds, and that individuals
many more ways of demonstrating their abilities. It
is important for White that practices are
not based on theories that are so demonstrably ‘flaky’.
really in the
business of defining a liberal curriculum, although he denies it. There’s nothing wrong with this idea, but we
should remember that it is only one option that will not suit everybody.
The article ends
running over some of the counter arguments that Gardner has made. The main one for our purposes is that White
denies he is merely getting philosophically picky with what is
empirical psychological project. It is
not a matter of different approaches or paradigms, simply that Gardner
misunderstands his own project as a scientific one.
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