Alison Gopnik (Berkeley) has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal about the study by Sarah Jane Leslie et al that we discussed last month on innate or “raw intellectual talent” and academia’s gender and race gaps. In her article, she writes, “From a scientific perspective, the very idea that something as complicated as philosophical success is the result of “innate talent” makes no sense.”
I asked Professor Gopnik if she wouldn’t mind elaborating on her views about innate talent in philosophy. She provided the following:
I’ve been thinking about the new Science finding by Leslie and Cimpian and the more I’ve thought about it the odder it seems that philosophers, of all people, haven’t taken the time to see how incoherent the “innate talent” concept actually is. Maybe it’s because it’s so seductive as part of “folk psychology”. In fact, when I first read the Science piece my own first thought was “But that doesn’t apply to me because I’ve always known that I had a strong innate talent for philosophy, much more than for psychology, and I made my major affiliation to psychology for all sorts of other intellectual reasons”. But literally as I was thinking this I was also preparing the very first standard lecture in my intro developmental psychology course which is about why the nature/nurture distinction for psychological traits doesn’t make sense. Even this philosopher/psychologist can be sucked in by the innate talent idea, but a first year developmental psychology course shows how weird it is.