Professor Gardner argues that there are several different types of intelligence rather than one monolithic IQ, and that these intelligences can be quantified individually.
But this week John White, professor of philosophy of education at the London Institute of Education, questioned the basis of intelligence categories laid down by Professor Gardner, such as "logico-mathematical", "spatial", or "linguistic". He believes they owe more to Professor Gardner's social views than to science.
Professor Gardner's ideas have become increasingly influential since his book Frames of Mind was published in 1983.
Professor White has no quarrel with the assertion that intelligence can take many forms. But in a lecture at the institute this week, he argued that Professor Gardner's categories are based on subjective views of what constitutes high achievement in particular fields. "Would everyone agree with him that the poet is the best example of a person whose sensitivity to the meanings and other features of words has reached a high degree of perfection? Why not the philosopher? Or the connoisseur of poetry rather than its producer?" "It seems that the 'end states' of Professor Gardner's intelligences are identified not by observation of what happens in nature...but by what is held by Gardner to be socially important."
Professor White questions the way Professor Gardner points to the existence of "idiots savants" as proof that people have discrete intelligences. He says that their skills in, for example, doing sums are "mechanical facilities", not intelligences, as they are incapable of adaptation to other contexts.
The idea that intelligence manifests itself in different ways is not new, he points out - the philosopher Gilbert Ryle wrote in 1949 that the "boxer, the surgeon, the poet and the salesman" possess their own kinds of intelligence. Professor Gardner's mistake, he says, was to "regiment this variousness, to corral it within a small number of categories."