At the same time people will say (science included) that IQ is a very important thing -- while at the same time saying that people with lower IQs can do things that people with higher IQs can -- while again coming back to IQ as some rigid qualification to employ any means or abilities in life to a degree.

If IQ is important, would that imply that one should not pursue certain areas/sciences/etc. if they have a lower IQ? If not, wouldn't telling them that they should continue to learn and pursue what they wish just discredit the previous argument of IQ's supposed weight/purpose? It seems contradictory.

For those who argue of IQ's importance and (mostly) rigid nature, they are essentially standing for the point that IQ is not easily changeable -- if at all -- and that IQ has prominence in determination of one's means somewhat. But so many who stand behind IQ will also stand behind the idea that one can use hard work and that IQ "doesn't tell all" just right after discussing the correlation between IQ and people in sciences, math, or just in general/some specific areas/etc. How does this argument make sense?

The rigidity of the IQ argument and its connection to genes postulates that you can't really "hard work" your way out of the disadvantage very much. So we could go on a limb and say this idea is very specious (the suggestion that people with lower than "ideal" IQs for 'x' or 'y' should just study harder).

I can't -- in any good faith at least -- argue that IQ is powerful and meaningful and not very changeable while then arguing that people can use hard work or etc. and pursue the same interests just as successfully as those with higher IQs in the end. If I made that argument I would quickly see my illogic.

If someone says, "IQ determines success potential," then follows with, "Hard work can make you successful anyways," the resulting conclusion I gather is that:

1.IQ is not that important to success (and is then assumed to be not as powerful of a tool of human capability overall), and hard work -- not strongly tied to IQ -- can gain one success;

2.IQ is important. The reason people succeed with lower IQs as compared equally to people of higher IQs in the end is because their IQs must have provably increased; which means IQ is changeable too.

These two previous statements, or finally:

3.Some people use some other means to succeed that do not fall back to IQ's potential/limitations/suggested means somehow, as compared to others' performance with higher IQs.

I get that using the term "successful" may not have any perfect meaning -- but within equal fields, measures and performances, correlation with IQ to ability/means seems to be how people validate it.

I do understand that in no one way anyone is suggesting that IQ is the be all, end all of human brain/human capability or capacity. I know one can argue that IQ has no provable correlation with stuff like: self-awareness; sentience; drive; strength; etc. My whole reason for asking this is to see where, logically and in any other such ways, people stand in defending the importance of IQ and its rigidity along with its role in brain power/human means, while also suggesting that people should continue to learn regardless of such a factor that was just previously stated to be very useful at seeing said means.

  • 3
    Do you actually find these arguments are made? I can only speak for my own sphere of influence, but I typically hear more of the limitations of measuring IQ than anything else.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 16, 2019 at 18:55
  • What about the hypothesis that both IQ and hard work are important? That seems to be consistent and would explain why both can lead to success.
    – E...
    Jul 16, 2019 at 19:37
  • 1
    "IQ has prominence in determination of one's means somewhat" and "one can use hard work and IQ "doesn't tell all"" sound complementary, not contradictory, so why wouldn't "many" stand behind both of them? "The rigidity of the IQ argument and its connection to genes postulates that you can't really "hard work" your way out of the disadvantage very much" does not follow at all. Rigidity only tells us that one can not alter IQ much, it tells us nothing as to how much one can make up for it with hard work. And the evidence indicates a lot. Your problem is in expecting a single magic bullet.
    – Conifold
    Jul 16, 2019 at 21:55
  • This could be made to relate to the philosophy of technology. If we have a lot more robots in the future, what functions will they take over, and then the power of computers will should increase too. So a high IQ may fit people for certain jobs today, but that is subject itself to historical change. Technology is just so disruptive today, who knows what skills will be needed. I think will need people to preserve information. We risk losing track of our history.
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2019 at 8:42
  • Even the doctors are not safe from losing their livelihood at some point. The pharmacists are in real danger in the coming years.
    – Gordon
    Jul 17, 2019 at 8:45

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure what you mean by people "arguing in favour of IQ"; perhaps you mean people advocate specific policies because they seem liable to increase cognitive abilities, such as improved education of removing lead from the environment. OK, I grant people do that: we want to give people as much of whatever IQ tests measure as we can, but also want them to do the best with the hand circumstances, including such policies, have dealt them.

Right, so why? The short ethical answer would be, "IQ matters and so do other things, and while the science on this probably needs some disclaimers on it, as ethicists we're giving the best advice we can." To that we can add, "if you trust the data, a smarter population is more successful in certain ways ceteris paribus, but if we want to get the full benefit, especially at the individual level, we need to worry about other potential limiting factors too". We can view this discussion as belonging to applied ethics, where normative principles such as utilitarianism meet these-are-the-facts...-I-think technicalities. So in the next paragraph, it'll sound a bit more like science (with plenty of room for philosophers to contest either the science or which oughts are drawn from it).

Just about any measure of success correlates only imperfectly with IQ. The correlations can be quite impressive by sociological standards, but other factors still matter. Take, for example, creativity. It seems the odds are stacked against at least some standards of creativity with an IQ below 120 (though perhaps this is untrue; all the science I discuss herein is somewhere on the spectrum of rigour). But among those clearing this bar, the correlation weakens. (IQ correlations do this in general, because of the way statistics works.) Or to take another example, musical talent has a correlation with IQ just under 0.4, which means about 15% of variance in musical talent is explained by IQ variance (you have to square the correlation to get the explained variance). That still leaves a lot of room for hard work, decent teaching, and every other variable you can think of (and to make things more complicated, these can't be entirely disentangled from IQ themselves).


Success is statistically correlated to various factors, IQ and hard work being two out of many.

Some more examples:

  • education
  • frustration tolerance
  • self-motivation
  • discrimination (most beneficial being white, young (as appropriate for the job), male, healthy, able-bodied, heterosexual, tall, good looking)

Science only describes the various correlations of the factors to success, and how strong that correlation is in the data.

Given a persons given situation, to be successful in business, they have to make the best of what they cannot change (such as their IQ or skin-color), but can try to optimize what they can change (education, relationships, hard work).

Strategies for employment are a different topic, which is much more complex, because the "ideal candidate" for any given job may have a slightly different profile, and different predictors for success in a given role, based also on the properties of the candidate pool.

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