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Posted By Patrick

After my last post outlining the Victorian evolution-theorist Alfred Russel Wallace’s take on the role of intelligence in human evolution, I received an email from my friend Ernie asking about emotional intelligence. Where does that fit into the whole thing, he wondered? Hmmm…

Then, last night I visited another friend, Rob, to eat a fine barbequed pork filet with risotto and wine, and this topic came up again. And it occurred to me (thanks, of course, to pushing from Emailing Ernie and BBQ Bob) that there might be some connection between Wallace’s ideas of those “moral qualities” that helped drive human evolution (along with “mental qualities,” natch) and contemporary ideas of emotional intelligence like those described by American psychologist Daniel Goleman. So here is a hypothesis: that Wallace’s moral qualities perform the same function that Goleman’s emotional intelligence does in that they both supplement more strictly rational definitions of intelligence. Here’s how Wallace described “mental and moral qualities” in the 1860s:

Capacity for acting in concert, for protection and the acquisition of food and shelter; sympathy, which leads all in turn to assist each other; the sense of right, which checks depredations upon our fellows; the decrease of the combative and destructive propensities; self-restraint in present appetites; and that intelligent foresight which prepares for the future

Some of these seem pretty rational “mental qualities,” like “intelligent foresight,” but others, like “sympathy” and “the decrease of combative and destructive propensities” are likely what Wallace was thinking of when he also referred to the importance of “moral qualities,” and could have a connection to contemporary ideas of “emotional intelligence.” Maybe we can draw an evolutionary line between the two, going from Wallace’s idea to Goleman’s. Or maybe they are both adaptations to their cultural environments, slightly different tools to perform similar jobs – Wallace’s “moral qualities” are something that would make sense for himself and his Victorian readers, especially those who were educated upper-middle class folk (as ideas of morality and class in 19th century Britain are pretty difficult to separate). Similarly, Goleman’s “emotional intelligence” is an adaptation formed to express an idea that fits the values of late-20th and early 21st century America. Does this make sense? And are there comparable adaptations elsewhere, in other times and places?

1 Comment(s):
Lynne said...
I think that the ability to delay gratification has been linked to other measures of intelligence. What is your view on "self-restraint in present appetites"?
September 2, 2009 12:07:54
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