A History of Intelligence and 'intellectual Disability': The Shaping of Psychology in Early Modern Europe

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Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011 - History - 381 pages
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Autism, Down syndrome, and other such labels assume that intellectual disability is a permanent aspect of human nature. C.F. Goodey demonstrates that intellectual disability and even intelligence are instead historically contingent creations, which are rooted in early modern cultural and religious matrices and corresponding forms of social organisation, and which have subsequently undergone continuous change. This paradigm-shifting book is also an urgent and compassionate appeal for us to consider, through the prism of history, how the apparent certainties of modern biology, medicine and psychology came to question the ethical status of some of us.

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Anyone interested in psychology, philosophy, ethics, and English literature, as well as classical, medieval, early modern, eighteenth-century, and disability studies should take note of this book. The product of twenty-some years of research, it presents a history of ideas ranging from the ancient Greeks to the current period. It is thorough, rigorous, comprehensive, and painstaking in its analysis while also being simultaneously measured and provocative in its conclusions. Goodey maintains that the concepts of intelligence and intellectual disability are mutually dependent. We cannot deem ourselves clever without at the same time imagining a group against which to compare our elevated intelligence. And yet, it is not so much intelligence (and its absence) that matters. What does matter is dirt, disorder, and pollution. We preen ourselves about our own (and our species') brilliance, and we fear lack of intelligence in others, not because intelligence in itself matters, but because of the dirt, disorder, and pollution we imagine will be stirred up by those whom we have decided a priori are devoid of intelligence. Hence, scapegoating, stigmatization, ritual avoidance, segregation, and annihilation occur. Goodey describes claims to (high) intelligence as a mode of bidding for social acceptance or status. This status-bidding mode is just that--an attempt to shore up our self-esteem and to have others affirm this self-assessment. Once, the common status-bidding claim had been that one was among the elect (recipient of God's special grace), and also once predominant had been the honor-based claim. In other words, election and honor prevailed in the early modern period. During the seventeenth-century, internal developments within the election and honor systems, together with the partial merger of the two, led by century's end to the ascendance of intelligence as the premier social-bidding mode. This development was articulated in John Locke's 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Goodey not only identifies the claim to intelligence as being today's chief bidding mode (a change in part attributable to Locke), but he also compels us to recognize that intelligence as a bidding mode has no more substance than the previously prevailing ones invoking honor and election. Eventuating in a powerful, compelling case, Goodey begins with Plato, Aristotle, and the Sophists, delves into the Scholastic medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus and the Arab thinkers Averroes and Avicenna, dwells at length on the Protestant debates surrounding election, reprobation, and free will carried on between predestinarians and Arminians, incorporates medical history, philosophy, literature, and concludes with a penetrating analysis of Locke's Essay. A History asks us to imagine a world beyond intelligence status bidding and gives us strong motivation for doing so by demonstrating how historically contingent and flimsy are our notions of intelligence and intellectual disability. A dense and demanding text, it ultimately presents the reader with a seemingly overwhelming challenge, one so fundamental it is difficult to grasp: it asks us to reevaluate what we most value in ourselves, in others, and in our species. Goodey wants us to reevaluate intelligence as a form of status bidding not because it forces us to traffic in a muddy concept (which it does), but because every time we engage in it, we unwittingly are taking for granted a category of entity so cognitively lacking that its species membership comes into doubt. Which is to say, there is much at stake in his challenge to us to start thinking differently about intelligence, for, as Goodey makes clear in the book's opening paragraph, the killing of people identified as intellectually disabled began long ago and continues today.
Prof. Chris Gabbard / Dept. of English / University of North Florida


Part 1 Problematical Intellects in Ancient Greece
Part 2 Intelligence and Disability
Part 3 Intelligence and Disability
Part 4 Intelligence Disability and Honour
Part 5 Intelligence Disability and Grace
Part 6 Fools and Their Medical Histories
Part 7 Psychology Biology and the Ethics of Exceptionalism
Part 8 John Locke and His Successors
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