The Pursuit of Inequality

by Philip Green. Pantheon, $14.95. Nothing is more vexing to a certain sort of public philosopher than arguments attesting to fundamental, irreducible differences between individuals. Such judgments directly offend the entirely worthy ideal of absolute equality—the goal toward which all of that stripe of public philosophers aspire. For a social scientist, therefore, to argue publicly that IQ is in some sense inherited, and may be beyond the reach of well-meaning intervention; and to argue further that a correlation may be seen between measurable IQ and certain vocational choices and rewards—that is to risk opposition of a formidable sort. Philip Green, a political scientist who teaches at Smith College, is the latest to rise in opposition to the hereditarian school among contemporary psychologists, and while his attack is substantive enough to warrant careful consideration, his ad hominem assaults and wailful misrepresentations do little to improve the quality of the debate.
The argument that Green labels “pernicious,” “potentially vicious,” “intellectually corrupt,” and a repudiation “of the entire ethos of liberal democracy” is that some component of our measurable intelligence is genetically inherited, rather than a product of environmental conditioning. Though Green quarrels with definitions of “intelligence,” with the idea that intelligence can be satisfactorily measured, and with the motives he senses behind any interest in the subject, he eventually concedes that some component of something we might loosely call intelligence probably is inherited —but a much smaller component than geneticists and psychologists of the hereditarian school believe.
Why such an apparently arguable difference in interpretation of admittedly modest data warrants such vicious repudiation lies, sadly, in the politics of the question rather than in its “science.” And Green, as he makes clear at the end of his essay, has an a prion agenda ("a plausible general strategy for redistributing power, wealth, and privilege throughout the social order”) that plainly clouds his discussion. Hereditarians, of course, do not categorically or even philosophically object to such a strategy, but do disagree with many environmentalists about what is plausible and what is not.
For all his intemperateness, Green touches on serious questions, and deals with many of them intelligently.
—C. Michael Curtis