Why Emotional Intelligence is an Invalid Concept



In this paper I argue that the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) in invalid both because it is not a form of intelligence and because it is defined so broadly and inclusively that it has no intelligible meaning. I distinguish the so called concept of emotional intelligence from actual intelligence and from rationality. I identify the actual relation between reason and emotion. I reveal the fundamental inadequacy of the concept of EI when applied to leadership. Finally, I suggest some alternatives to the EI concept.

Why Emotional Intelligence Is an Invalid Concept

The concept of intelligence refers to one’s ability to form and grasp concepts, especially higher level or more abstract concepts. The observations on which the concept of intelligence is formed are that some people are simply able to “get” things better than others, that is, they are able to make connections, see implications, reason deductively and inductively, grasp complexity, understand the meaning of ideas, etc. better than other people. Motivation obviously plays a role in understanding concepts and can partly compensate for low ability, but even highly motivated people differ in intellectual ability.  Those who are better able to grasp higher level concepts are better able to handle complex tasks and jobs.  

Intelligence must be clearly distinguished from rationality. Whereas intelligence refers to one’s capacity to grasp abstractions, rationality refers to how one actually uses one’s mind.  A rational individual takes facts seriously and uses thinking and logic to reach conclusions. A person can be very intelligent and yet very irrational (cf. many modern philosophers; Ghate & Locke, 2003). For example, a person’s thinking may be dominated by emotions, and they may not distinguish between what they feel and what they can demonstrate to be true.

The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) was introduced by Salovey and Mayer (1990), although related ideas such as “social intelligence” had been introduced by earlier writers—originally by E.L. Thorndike. Salovey and Mayer (1990, p. 189) defined emotional intelligence as, “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”   (Note: definitions of EI are constantly changing, an issue I will return to later).There are several problems with this definition. First, the ability to monitor one’s emotions does not require any special degree or type of intelligence. Monitoring one’s emotions is basically a matter of where one chooses to focus one’s attention, outwards at the external world or inward at the contents and processes of one’s own consciousness. (This claim obviously implies that people have volitional control over focusing their minds. For a detailed discussion and defense of claim that people possess volition or free will, see Binswanger, 1991, and Peikoff, 1991.) Focusing inwards involves introspection. Similarly, the ability to read the emotions of others is not necessarily an issue of intelligence. It could simply be a matter of paying attention to others and being aware of one’s own emotions so that one can empathize with others. For example, if one is unaware, due to defensiveness, that one can feel fear, one will not be able to empathize with fear in others….[    ]

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