This isn't really a philosophical question as such, but rather a question about reading philosophy.
Recently I was advised not to apply to read philosophy at university because I achieved a low mark in
an abstract reasoning test i.e. my ability to discern trends and patterns in shapes was poor. My
teacher did, however, add that my mark may have been dependent on poor spatial reasoning (as the
test involved shapes) which is not necessarily required for philosophical study. Do you think such
tests are a guide to potential philosophical aptitude?
Secondly, do you think logic can be improved with practice?
There's no black and white answer to this. There seems to be such a thing as "general intelligence",
but it's hard to pin down. Specialized tests such as the one you cite tend to relate to one's general
intelligence and to each other, but that's just a tendency, not anything written in stone. Do I think
they're a guide? Yes, in general. But I cannot answer that question, and no one can, in any particular
case. There are also specific abilities which are realized in specific brain areas, and visualizing is not
realized in completely the same areas, generally, as verbal abilities. There's overlap, of course.
You want advice? Go for what you're interested in. If you like philosophy, read it. Maybe you'll have
more trouble with it than some others, maybe you won't. But you'll be enjoying yourself, in any case.
There is absolutely no doubt that one's ability to reason logically can be improved with practice. But in
addition, with very intense practice and time put in, one's aptitude can also be increased. That is, with
great effort you can increase your intelligence, even in some fundamental sense... up to a limit, of
course... which no one can determine beforehand. interactions between motivation and intelligence
are strange and complex.
Steven Ravett Brown
I am strongly against using any form of intelligence or mental ability test in order to measure
'philosophical aptitude'. To begin with, I would challenge the justification for the belief that if you do
well on test XYZ you will perform better as a philosopher (unless the test is a philosophy test — even
then, I have my doubts).
If the designer of the test has reasoned a priorithat marks in the test will be correlated with
philosophical performance, then this claim is open to refutation by an empirical study of actual case
histories of philosophy students who have taken the test, and their subsequent careers. (The point
that such a prioriassumptions in psychological testing are open to empirical refutation was repeatedly
made by the psychologist Hans Eysenck.) Have any such extended studies been made in the case of
tests for philosophical aptitude? I very much doubt it.
But let us suppose that good performance the test has been shown empirically to correlate generally
with success in philosophy. There will always be exceptions to any empirical correlation. Even if
ninety-five per cent of people who score badly in the test do significantly worse in philosophy, you
may be one of the five per cent who succeeds spectacularly against the odds, because of other
factors such as motivation, or other intellectual skills which compensate for lack of skill in the narrow
Ignore your teacher. If you have decided that philosophy is something you really want to do — and I
am assuming that you know what philosophy is about, and are not merely guessing that you might
like it — then that counts for far more than performance on any test.
Yes, the ability to solve logic puzzles, diagnose logical fallacies, write proofs in formal logic can all be
improved with practice. But that will have positive benefits for any academic subject — not just
philosophy — that requires you to argue a case.