EQ–Ethical Intelligence

Are we all born with the same amount of ethical intelligence? 

I would imagine that most people believe that “intelligence” or IQ is not something all people are born with equal amounts of (although an interesting argument anyone is welcome to take up would be that “IQ” is a culturally bound notion and most people are born with equal amounts of “intelligence”). While we may be able to increase our IQ to a certain extent, it seems (at least to me) that there are always people who are more intelligent, and seem to be naturally so.

A similar argument could be said for SQ or “social intelligence” (although much less quantifiable). Some people are naturally better at responding to social circumstances, “fitting in”, or “getting along” with others. A large amount of in-born(?) social ackwardness is hard to overcome.

I’m curious whether or not this argument can be extend to the ethical or moral sphere as far as Mormonism is concerned? Are we all born with the same amount of ethical intelligence? In terms of this discussion it may perhaps be best to create a working definition of ethical intelligence–the ability to recognize right from wrong–as subjective or objective as it may be (so not necessarily to take action or “do” the right, which would also be an interesting discussion). I’m speaking here generically and not universally. In other words there are of course those with sever deformaties that make any universal claim impossible, so I’m dealing here in a “generic” rather than “universal” sense.

Can we all equally recognize right from wrong? Are we born equals in EQ, or are some more naturally endowed than others? If we have differing levels of EQ, is it harder for some to live the gospel than it is for others? 

9 Replies to “EQ–Ethical Intelligence”

  1. I’m speaking here generically and not universally. In other words there are of course those with sever deformaties that make any universal claim impossible, so I’m dealing here in a “generic” rather than “universal” sense.

    I don’t think you can do this. You want to divide the world into two camps: those whose “severe deformities” give them low EQs, and the rest of us. But in reality, there is a whole multidimensional spectrum of deformities ranging from none to mild to severe. Indeed, most of us fall somewhere on that spectrum other than than totally-without-deformity point. If severe deformities are enough to affect EQs, why would we not expect one’s place on the spectrum of milder deformities to affect them as well?

  2. smallaxe:

    Excellent post and questions. We (as a Church) certainly recognize that some people are less able to distinguish right from wrong than others as per our policy on baptism (no baptism until age 8, case-by-case basis for those with mental impairments). But — to be provocative — what of the clinical sociopath? These are people who have a clearly impaired ability to distinguish right from wrong. There are nature vs. nurture disputes over the causes behind sociopathy — and, of course, from an LDS point of view, there’s the potential third factor of what said people brought with them to this life. Whatever the causes, however, it’s obvious that a sociopath would have a very hard time living the gospel.

    Personally, I think such people could be classified as having a lower ‘EQ’ and would be held far less accountable by the Lord. It is one of the reasons why we are cautioned against judgment of others; only the Lord knows all the circumstances and factors involved. ..bruce..

  3. Last Lemming,

    You want to divide the world into two camps…

    I’m not dividing the world into any camps. I’m merely trying to head of comments that assume I’m making a universal claim in which case the answer is obvious that at certain extremes people have differing levels of EQ (such as what bruce gets at in talking about sociopathy, no offense bruce). Making a “generic” claim is like saying “generally speaking”. In other words, “Generally speaking are people born with the same EQ?” Perhaps I should have worded it that way instead. BTW, you didn’t answer the question.


    Do you think baptizing children at 8 years old can be understood as a claim that EQ is something primarily developed as we mature?

  4. Hmmm, no one yet has mentioned “light of Christ”. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

  5. ed42: whereas we believe all people to have the light of Christ, do we believe them to possess it in the same quantities, or candle-power?

    SmallAxe, you raise important questions. I think it’s indisputable that different people are born with different aptitudes for different things, even and especially within themselves. Often one area of intelligence (thinking now of Howard Gardner’s categorization of intelligences) will be pronounced over another. And more and more medical science is speaking in “spectrums” of disorders, of which we probably all possess some.

    I actually think you’re too quick to dismiss disabilities from the question, because isn’t what you’re asking about is degree of (dis)ability? I wouldn’t say you’re at all categorizing as LL said, but I think what disorders force us to ask is to what extent our bodies, our “wiring” constitute our character. If people with autistic and Down’s syndrome are insuperably affected by their body, we have to rethink the spirit/body dichotomy also in people without obvious disorders. And I think ethical intelligence has to be affected by wiring. I feel like one of the big questions we have to ask in our day and age is what is the nature of the relationship between spirit and body? (Sorry if I’m off-topic here, but I think your questions get us into difficult questions to answer.)

  6. I agree with Jupiterschild’s answer. If you don’t think that response constitutes an answer either, let’s do it this way:

    Can we all equally recognize right from wrong? No
    Are we born equals in EQ, or are some more naturally endowed than others? The latter
    If we have differing levels of EQ, is it harder for some to live the gospel than it is for others? Yes

  7. I’ve got another question: If we’re not all born equals in EQ, what do we do then about standards? If it’s harder for some to live the gospel than for others, is it fair to require everyone to meet the same standard? If we think of God as judging us based on “what we do with what we’ve got,” why do we impose uniform standards of “worthiness”? (Again, sorry if this gets too far away from the question.)

  8. Just a thought…
    The standard (perfection) is set so high that no one can reach it. We must all rely on the merits of Christ to help us make up the discrepancy. Each one contributes all they can, then Christ makes up the rest, be it small or large. So now the question comes down to: is there some type of “intelligence” or predisposition to accept/reject the Savior?

  9. For the sake of clarity, I’m not working to exclude any group in regards to EQ. A ‘generic’ versus ‘universal’ claim is a rhetorical device used in moral discourse to exclude appeals to extreme cases to disqualify a claim. In other words, many LDSs would see people with disabilities as exceptions to the rule rather than the rule itself (some may disagree with this, including myself). If I were posing a universal claim in regards to EQ those LDSs would obviously be excluded from the conversation; and such, I believe, would not move the conversation in a productive manner. This is all to say that posing the question, “Generally speaking are all people born with the same EQ?” allows everyone to participate in the discussion. For more on this usage of ‘generic’ as opposed to ‘universal’ claims see Julius E. Moravcsik, “Genericity and Linguistic Competence”, Theori des Lexikons , Arbeiten des Sonderforschungsbereichs 282, no. 54 (Dusseldorf: Heinrich Heine Universitat, 1994).

    With that out of the way, it seems that most here agree that people have different levels of EQ. Two questions come to mind. First, what do we do with passages such as 2 Nephi 2:5 “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil”? Second, as jupiterschild suggests, how do we deal with “standards”? Are these conceived of as things that all people (generally speaking) should measure up to?

    BiV seems to offer an alternative understanding of EQ–a predisposition to accept or reject the Savior. Is this something you see people equally endowed with, BiV?

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