To be honest, I think most philosophers are pretty limited in their intelligences. They may be amazing along a certain dimension of intelligence, but in many cases the other dimensions are atrophied. And moreover, they don't even recognize the multiplicity of intelligences and think the kind they have is either the only one or the most important. That, to my mind, is a serious limitation that negatively affects our discipline.--Sally Haslanger
Haslanger's remarks about merit have received quite a bit of attention (see here at Dailynous, [recall also my post]), but I have seen no attention focused on the remarks I have quoted. Haslanger is not making the familiar point -- well it's one that I stress and that Ruth Chang has made with forceful clarity-- that philosophical training creates intellectual dispositions or reflexes that undercut the proper functioning of, say, our reactive attitudes or sympathy and, thereby, the possibility of a virtuous life or acting ethically (recall and here). Rather, she is making the more subtle point that we do not recognize different ways of (for lack of better words) being smart. Let's stipulate Haslanger is right about this.*
I want to reflect a bit on what follows from this fact for philosophy. (So, let's allow and ignore that it may also generate all kinds of interpersonal and moral challenges for philosophers and their fellow human beings.) Now, it's possible that this oversight is only harmful when we theorize about the capacities of other agents (in philosophy of mind, epistemology, political philosophy, normative theory, philosophy of action, applied ethics, etc.). That is, we theorize smarty-ness in other human beings along too few or impoverished dimensions. Our conception of agency would then be unidimensional in the way that the economist's homo economicus is. This need not be a problem as long as we would recognize this unidimensionality as a disciplinary tick, that allows us to have a lot of efficient conversations and to theorize cleanly (but partially) about the world. It is, however, foreseeable that, in practice, we would come to mistake the model for reality. Thinking like a philosopher would be to assume unidimensional-smartyness-man (or woman).
As an aside, I do think unidimensional-smartyness-man is packaged into a lot of standard forms of analysis and the ways intuitions work in epistemology and philosophy of language. But that's for another time.
But there is another kind of harm, a methodological one for philosophy. A lot of methodologies that are advocated basically say, do something difficult and rigorous and good things will follow for the discipline. As it happens, I am very good at this difficult and rigorous method. Example: Timothy Williamson ("Must do Better.") [I only mention it because I have harped on the example before--lately I am a big fan of Williamson.] If intelligence is uni-dimensional then the only question is,' is that the right method for the discipline (or the optimal one given our present knowledge and resources, etc.)?' and, if it is, how do we make sure that a lot of us get on with the program.
But if intelligence is not uni-dimensional, then even if one grants that the difficult and rigorous method proposed by the important person works well to make progress (yeah, okay, let's ignore my qualms) in philosophy, it is by no means obvious that all would-be philosophers can contribute by way of that method. It is, after all, equally possible that there is a second-best (let's stipulate not so rigorous not so terrific method) method that allows some fruitful steps on the path to true philosophy by folk who are smarty in ways distinct from the important person who advocates the difficult and rigorous method. Perhaps, the alternative smarties can contribute quite a lot by following methods more suitable to their intelligence(s). (I think Amia Srinivasian first pointed this out to me as an implication of some of my own views.) That is to say, I am unfamiliar of writings in philosophical methodology that soundly establish that theirs is the unique, only possible method to make progress.
The claim in the previous paragraph is familiar enough from the epistemic advantages of diversity as discussed in epistemology and philosophy of science. But it's also a moral point (again Srinivasian taught me this) that is a way to interpret the second norm of the methodological analytical egalitarianism that I adopt and advocate: experts/philosophers should not promote policies where the down-side risks of implementation are (primarily) shifted onto less fortunate others. That is, many of us often advocate methods that are good for us -- we can flourish by using them -- and the way we conceive the discipline, but that are not evidently good for others (even if, and often this is a big if, they also conceive the discipline in the same way). So, if unidimensional-smartyness is false (as I stipulated), then it follows 'we' make others miserable (qua philosophers) by insisting that they adopt the method privileged by 'us' (and suitable for 'us').
To be sure, the previous paragraph is not an argument for anything goes. Some methods and strategies may well be self-defeating or not conducive to any path to wisdom, or philosophical progress, given our atrophied natures. But one may then explore what could be done to develop human potentiality.
*As a methodological analytical egalitarian, I stipulate that such difference is a consequence of institutions, norms, and incentives, but that's for a different day.