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  • A History of Intelligence and 'Intellectual Disability': The Shaping of Psychology in Early Modern Europe by C. F. Goodey
  • Christian Thorsten Callisen
Goodey, C. F. , A History of Intelligence and 'Intellectual Disability': The Shaping of Psychology in Early Modern Europe, Farnham, Ashgate, 2011; hardback; pp. x, 382; R.R.P. £35.00; ISBN 9781409420217.

C. F. Goodey brings to A History of Intelligence and 'Intellectual Disability' over twenty years of experience researching and working in the field of 'intellectual disability'. Recognizing that a modern concept such as 'intelligence' must be by its very nature historically contingent, he sets out to chart its course, and that of its by-product, intellectual disability, from its origins in late medieval Europe to its manifestation in the 'psy' disciplines that one recognizes today.

Goodey begins his study with a reflection on 'problematical intellects in ancient Greece'. While philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle have been used throughout the medieval, early modern, and modern periods to bolster arguments for an ahistorical, universal understanding of intellectual disability, Goodey argues convincingly that 'in the history of modern psychological concepts, Plato and Aristotle are not ancestors but outsiders, barbarians even' (p. 16). Not only was Aristotle misquoted when he was credited with the phrase 'man is a rational animal', an Aristotelian epistemology simply would not permit of such a claim (pp. 34-36).

Having debunked any claims that a modern concept of intelligence might have to universality, Goodey proceeds to explore its operations within society. He does this with a series of detailed discussions about socio-economic structures, power, and status in early modern Europe. In particular, he explores the relationships between ideas of, and claims to, honour and grace, arguing that honour and grace have historically served in place of intelligence when determining who belonged to the 'in-group' and who to the 'out-group' of society. Further, specialists in honour and grace determined specific criteria by which one could be measured and included or excluded accordingly. 'If honour and intelligence are similar in their relationship to social mobility', Goodey claims, 'so too are they in their forms of assessment. Heraldic devices bear a functional resemblance to psychometric scores' (p. 106).

Goodey's discussions on this topic are intriguing, but his assertion that intelligence comprises the modern channel by which 'status bids' for membership of the in-group might be made strikes this reader as rather a sweeping claim. Certainly, it can be argued that intelligence tests aim to measure what is valued by contemporary society (particularly capitalist, neo-liberal regimes in which individuals are shaped to be entrepreneurial, and in which thought becomes a form of labour) rather than some innate 'thing' (pp. 41-45), but this may not be enough to elevate intelligence to the dizzying heights that Goodey claims modern Western societies have done. There is a [End Page 247] wealth of literature that might have been drawn on here, and one feels that other modes of 'status bidding', such as the giving and receiving of gifts or the amassing of wealth, not always tied to intelligence, ought to at least have been acknowledged.

In the final parts of this book, Goodey examines the ever-increasing focus on the measurement of concepts that might be identified with intelligence, and on the identification of intellectual disability (in, for example, fools, 'special' people, and changelings), arguing that a form of early modern positivism remains alive and well in today's 'psy' disciplines. Commenting on modern psychiatry's use of objects such as DNA strings to support its diagnoses, Goodey observes that psychiatry 'presents itself as an exact science because it deals with things that really are there to be measured' (p. 216). However, as he also points out, the same can be said of phrenology. The fact that something is there to be measured does not mean that it has the cause and effect that one would like it to.

Goodey ends his study with an extended discussion of John Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding. He identifies Locke as the immediate forerunner to modern 'psy' disciplines, thereby linking these to medieval misappropriations of Plato and Aristotle, notions of the self and of autonomy...


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