Before reading the present essay, which almost completely lacks citations, it is heavily advised that one read the essay being discussed, here.
I. On the variety argument.
No matter how long and varied Mr. David Stove thinks human experience is, it seems to be a fact that every civilized society was male-dominated (presumably because men are physically stronger and more aggressive in many senses), i.e. in every civilized society women were subjugated (that is to say, in Ancient Greece, Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Rome, …, Victorian England, 19th Century US, Modern Japan, and so on). I think it very safe to conclude from the historical record that the massive majority of women were denied freedom of education, patronized, and overall bullied out of the contemplative life.
I am pretty sure this heavily discourages independent thought, bold and creative thinking; it also prevents women from engaging in thoughtful and constructive discussion with established intellectuals, and also denies women the mere possibility of learning from the work of previous intellectual,barring them from making progress standing on the shoulder of giants. I take it these are preconditions for the sort of intellectual performance Stove wants to see. Furthermore, it is expected from such a male-dominated society that even if a given brilliant woman made attempts at bold intellectual innovation (or even lukewarm advances on received theories) she would be heavily (and perhaps aggressively, and physically at that) discouraged at every point along her path, denied publishing rights, or largely ignored and forgotten.
Intellectual performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am pretty sure that the percentage of brilliant humans at any given time floats a little around a fixed point. As many persons (say, per 10.000 people) with high innate intellectual capacities exist in Ancient Sumer, as exist in Socrates’s Ancient Greece, or in modern-day Australian tribes, or in Enlightenment Europe, or in the Early Medieval Period. We have, of course, some ‘mind migration’ effect, as when we have geniuses from all over the world gathering in Princeton’s Institute for Advance Studies. Still, many places worked only with people born there and achieved tremendous intellectual results.
Think of Vienna in the first half the 20th Century, for example, with high-performance geniuses, ranging from Mahler to Schoenberg, from Mach to Boltzmann, from Adler to Freud, from R. von Mises to Schrödinger, from Neurath to Popper, from Menger to Hayek, being born in bunches every decade. (I’m good with names.) Again, I am pretty sure Austria didn’t hit the genetic jackpot during, and pretty much only during, late 19th century and early 20th century – much more plausible is that potential geniuses always exist at any time and place, and that only sometimes the right conditions for their intellectual flourishing are met. This is always done in community, with great men influencing younger men to become great too – and what happens if women are not allowed into these communities?
That seems to me proof that high intellectual capacity is not nearly enough to the attainment of high intellectual performance – since the rate of high intellectually capable persons among natives of any given region is fixed, it cannot explain the extreme fluctuation of intellectual fertility among natives of any given region. I don’t think Europe was specially endowed with two or three centuries worth geniuses (in the arts, in natural science, and in philosophy), but rather that the geniuses were there all along and the right conditions for intellectual flourishing were met. Among the conditions for the intellectual flourishing of a person are: participation in a flourishing intellectual community, access to great works of the past, and formal education. Again, I’m pretty sure that, historically, almost no woman ever got any of those three, let alone all three – whereas most of the great men of the past did get access to those three, and more. I figure it was so entrenched that women were not fit for intellectual work that even if a woman as born in a specially progressive family in a specially progressive neighborhood, neither she nor her family would think about that woman becoming a scientist, a musician, or a philosopher.
“Would fifty years, or five hundred years, of equal intellectual performance by women and men, convince [me] of their equal intellectual capacity? That would depend entirely on the circumstances. For it might then be my turn to cry “The game’s not fair,” and I might be able to make the charge stick too. I might be able to identify some interfering factor which was more than adequate to explain the discrepancy between my theory and the observed facts.”
These historical observations I made are, I gather, heavily backed up by evidence and provide weighty support for a female-suppression thesis. Stove, on the other hand, is saying that he could make observations – as convincing as the ones I have provided for the female-suppression thesis – in order to back up some male-suppression thesis, in order to explain away future sustained equal intellectual performance between the sexes. He is implying he could do this no matter what the actual evidence was, and arguing that a defendant of the female-suppression thesis is currently being as arbitrary and non-evidence-based as he would be in such a scenario. But this is clearly false, for as we have seen the female-suppression thesis has ample evidence. I also think to have established that Stove’s position that human experience has had “limitless and largely-undesigned variety” – where the variety in question is supposed to be of the relevant kind, that is, such as to allow ample possibility for women to perform intellectually and be acknowledged for it – is dramatically untenable.
The historical evidence of male vs. female intellectual performance is entirely consistent with the equality-thesis I adopt and Stove critiques, and makes Stove’s thesis of the intellectual inferiority of women unwarranted – but not, so far, refuted. However, the fact that female intellectual performance is on a vertiginous rise exactly during the time in which heavy advances are being made in the economic, social, and intellectual freedom of women – allowing them the very preconditions for intellectual performance aforementioned -, is something that heavily corroborates the thesis that women’s intellectual performance was being at least considerably (and one may very plausibly say heavily) held back by the suppression of women outlined above. It follows that the equality-thesis agrees more with the evidence than Stove’s position. Alternative theses that share a family resemblance with Stove’s position will be outlined in section III.
II. On the biased psychology argument.
As both Stove and I would predict, the largest meta-studies on gender intellectual differences reveal no substantial differences between men and women in general intelligence, such as the (hitherto) latest one performed by the American Psychological Association. (Nisbett, Flynn, et al. 2012)
Stove makes the very plausible claim that psychologists have a heavy incentive not to publish results which discredit the intellectual capacity of women in comparison with men’s. I think such an incentive obviously exists, for the topic is heavily politically charged, but that it is not as compelling or strong as Stove needs it to be in order to make his case: a quick look on Wikipedia shows that there are quite a bunch of recognized researchers on the field of intellectual gender differences that have argued for greater intelligence among males, and large debates on the question were conducted even in very prestigious publications such as Nature. The difference reported by these researchers is, however, negligible (in the order of magnitude of 5 IQ points).
As such, Stove’s critique of the reliability of psychology in studying politically-charged topics takes a severe blow by the fact that there are researchers who publish very controversial views. This lends support to the aforementioned results of the APA, who made an extensive review of the existing literature – which included these studies with highly polemic results -, and it would take some wishful (or, as one might say, conspiratory) thinking on the part of Stove to claim the APA meta-study has been rigged, given that the field seems somewhat open to polemical views. The evidence, thus, is again more compatible with the view I defend – what Stove calls equality-thesis – than with Stove’s. More comments on the reliability of psychology are made on section IV.
III. On the evolutionary argument.
There are two ways, however, in which Stove’s view could be salvaged. First, he could claim that psychological tests of memory, logical reasoning, spatial ability, and verbal ability, do not test for what is most important in high-end intellectual performance: creativity. Perhaps men are just better at formulating plausible bold hypotheses, and thus are better scientists and philosophers. There is no evidence that such is the case, and a plausible psych-evo argument could scarcely be manufactured to support such a view (say, that it takes more creativity (of the relevant kind) to perform the male-activities common in our evolutionary environment than to perform the female-activities): Stove himself has provided many psych-evo arguments that sound more plausible than this one, and, yet, his arguments have produced results that were empirically verified, to a reasonable extent, to be false. So I gather armchair psych-evo reasoning to be very unreliable, which is why psych-evo proponents such as Steven Pinker only trust such reasonings when corroborated by empirical evidence.
Second, he could claim that whereas men and women may have the same average intelligence (a fact that the aforementioned reviews have bared out), perhaps the distribution of men’s intelligence is larger than that of women’s – meaning that, among the population of very high-intelligence persons, men predominate (such as much as among the population of very low-intelligence persons). This would partially explain the difference in frequency between men and women with very high intellectual achievement, though this has already been substantially explained through the female-suppression thesis I argued for on section I, and could very well fully explain it. The case for this view – that man have a wider distribution of innate intellectual capacity – in any case remains open. What is sure, however, is that Stove’s original view is not supported neither by historical evidence nor by scientific evidence.
IV. On Stove’s challenge.
He asks anyone who defends a view like the one I have proposed: “What would convince [you] of the falsity of [your] belief [on the equality of intelligence between the sexes]? What would [you] even regard as being some evidence against it?”
There are three kinds of evidence that could be given. First, I would be convinced if psychology studies consistently ranked women as less intelligent than men; or, if one wants to concede to Stove that most such studies would be hidden if they existed, then I would be convinced if there was at least an absence of large meta-studies adducing support to the equality-thesis. I really don’t find it plausible that such large studies would be heavily rigged towards the equality-thesis, even if I can believe that studies that supported Stove’s position would be hidden from public view. I could believe that, if women were really on the whole less intelligent, then psychologists would find this out and pretty much keep quiet about it. But much less plausible is that they would fake large studies in order to convince people of the equality-thesis. Therefore, the truth of Stove’s thesis would imply at least a silence among psychologists on the topic.
Second, I would be convinced if in the next century (or centuries) there was a persistent lack of women among the highest ranks of intellectual achievement. If we got to the year 2080 and there was not much in Western (or, perhaps by that time, global) culture that visibly prevent women from joining such ranks (through, say, discouraging acculturation or active impediment through implicit biases), then we would have for the first time actual historical evidence for the intellectual inferiority of women. All the historical evidence we have up until now is rigged by male-domination of the pernicious kind outlined above, and the only reliable evidence would have to come from a society much, much more egalitarian than the ones existent before the twentieth century.
Third, someone could show that the point I made in the immediately preceding sentence is false – that is, that society wasn’t always male-dominated, and that in fact there have been many times in which there was some intellectual flourishing going on that women could participate (i.e. that many women were being educated, encouraged, and listened to). I am not aware of any work trying to prove this point. Perhaps there is none, and perhaps that is because there is no case to be made for such a position. Stove could claim that perhaps historical research on very politically charged topics is rigged in the same way psychology, he claims, is rigged, and this is why nobody has set out to prove Stove’s thesis that the variation in the conditions of female existence was expressive enough, and in the relevant ways, to permit large numbers of women to satisfy the preconditions to intellectual performance. I find this claim, as most claims of strong academic riggedness (be it either that researches fake results or hide compromising results), to be very implausible.
Perhaps the future will disprove my thesis and favor Stove’s thesis that women are less intelligent on average, or, at least, that the variation in female intelligence is smaller than the male’s, making it so both sexes average intelligence are the same, and yet the highest ranks of intellectual capability (and thus performance) are still dominated by men (as well as the lowest ranks) even in egalitarian societies. As of now, the first kind of evidence I pointed to above is expressively lacking, and the second one is not available yet; but the current trends – a vertiginous rise in the ratio of women:men among the high rankings of the academy – make it implausible.
V. On the comparison with Christianity.
“A comparison between Christianity, and the supposedly-equal intellectual capacity of women, is in fact worth pausing over. Equality-theorists are never tired of reminding us of the obstacles which have been put in the way of the exercise of the intellectual capacity of women, at such-and-such a period, in that society or the other; and of course there are countless such cases. Those obstacles, however, have never been more than trifles when compared with the obstacles which, in countless cases, have been put in the way of the practice of the Christian religion … [and] female intellectual capacity has obviously been tried in a far greater number of cases, and in a far wider variety of circumstances, than Christianity.”
I do not think it very useful to compare the dynamics of religion performance (meaning, its ability to resist annihilation and to spread) and individual performance. Whereas the former is composed of groups of people (in fact, groups of men or mixed groups dominated by men) spread around countries, being able to communicate with one another and lend mutual support (think of early Christians), the situation of individual women has always been very different. They are not provided motivation through intense religious fervor (a notorious propensity of humans), nor through support of mildly-organized groups of like-minded people.
On top of that, the conditions of intellectual success for women include being given access to books and intellectual societies, but those were clearly very scarce and completely dominated by very, very misogynistic men. The fact that virtually no woman has achieved this feat (except for ridiculously rare outliers such as Hypatia, who by the way was largely ignored for aeons, whereas lesser neo-platonic philosophers weren’t), despite at least many of them having the innate intellectual capacity to do so (something we know through current female intellectual performance), is evidence that doing so is very difficult. (And we have seen on the last paragraph why it is to be expected that this is difficult.) Contrariwise, religions need to perform the feat of surviving and spreading in the face of adversity, such as ideological resistance from the State – something I gather has been done multiple times in human history, including Buddhism and local religions resisting foreign conquest, so we know it to be quite possible. (And we have seen on the last paragraph why it is to be expected that this is not so difficult.)
All in all, I am utterly unconvinced that it is to be expected that women, given similar intellectual capacity to men’s, should have fought against all the odds and discouraging and suppression I have talked about, and came through with formidable intellectual performance. So the fact that they haven’t is no reason to think their intellectual capacity is not similar to men’s.
I, however, applaud Mr. Stove’s general intellectual independence, even if he was very wrong on this matter. I have thoroughly resisted emotional urges while reading his article, since I think it sub-optimal (though not blamable), and have aimed to give a rational response to a carefully-argued essay instead of an emotional response (which would be blamable).