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In many respects, A History of Intelligence and Intellectual 'Disability' is a confronting work. At a literal level, it comprises eighteen chapters verging on a total of quarter of a million words, apart from twenty-two pages of primary and secondary sources. Many of its chapters are drawn from Chris Goodey's articles since the early 'nineties in such journals as Ancient Philosophy, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, History of the Human Sciences, and Political Theory. However, he immediately warns us that such articles exist as a "more primitive form" (vii) of the current volume.
As quickly becomes evident in the Introduction (1-12), confrontation comes in another guise from an author focused upon the far-reaching educative, ethical, and social repercussions of intellectual disability. Can practitioners, researchers, and teachers of psychology and medicine afford to neglect Goodey's challenge to our current notions of intellectual disability which, at times, are complacent if not static? Surely, we might wonder, is there any mileage in questioning what recent generations have understood as the mentally handicapped, the slow or half witted, the intellectually limited? Many of us may be quite familiar with Michel Foucault's 1963 Naissance de la clinique and his examination of the rapid re-organisation of medical knowledge and discourse in teaching hospitals of the late eighteenth century which inaugurated a new scientific conception of not only what constituted the diseased and the pathological, but also who was to be entrusted with the diagnosis and treatment of such conditions.
Goodey's provocative history of ideas takes us to a Europe before that period. The underlying contention of his work is that the fundamental presumptions and distinctions practised by contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists, irrespective of their internecine differences, have been inherited from the work of one intellectual above all others, the physician and philosopher John Locke, and from one work in particular, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding first published in 1690. Yet Locke, the one whom Goodey "has so far set up to be the villain of the piece," proves to be "a more complex character" (316) than his "seminal refashioning of theological doctrine" (12) "as an aggregate of logically reasoning individuals" (9) might at first suggest. Why? Because his "seminal redefinition" of humankind is "founded upon the exception of intellectually disabled 'changelings'" (9), a disability that denies the capacity for logical, abstract reasoning, and consequently moral apprehension, to particular adults and children with otherwise human physical attributes.
The task Goodey sets himself is to demonstrate that the polar notions of intelligence and intellectual disability were embedded within quite different frames of reference such as the juridical and the theological to mention but two. By refusing to account for the history of such concepts in psychological terms, he aims to force his readers to adopt a far more reflexive, more critical attitude to our current categories. By insisting that his readers wrestle with the metaphysical and theological dimensions of intelligence, Goodey constantly confronts his readers with the complex conventions, limitations, and contingencies of how intelligence and its lack have been and can be construed.
Within the limits upon length of this critique, rather than précis each chapter let us focus our attention upon two questions. Firstly, on the basis of the book's goals, how are readers in the clinical sciences to read this massive volume, especially readers who may not have Goodey's familiarity with the historical and philosophical background of the twenty centuries between Plato and Locke? Secondly, what are the consequences of his central claim about Locke (outlined above)? What, in other words, are the crucial lines of debate he would have us engage?
To read Goodey is to enter a dialogue between modern socio-psychological discourse and a contextual reading of texts of yesteryear. It is a dialogue initiated by the common realisation that, whilst there appears to be little dispute over what comprises physical disability, the same cannot be said for cognitive disability. Indeed, Goodey contends, the latter "is always historically constructed" (2). Intelligence and intellectual disability, albeit "mutually reinforcing concepts" (1), are "not natural kinds but historically contingent forms of human self-representation and social reciprocity of relatively recent historical origin" (2). The sheer proliferation of expressions for intellectual disability--the backward and the defective, the feebleminded and the oligophrenic, the impaired and the retarded, the handicapped and the moronic, etc.--suggests to Goodey an "instability" of supposed deficits pointing to "a deeper conceptual problem" erected upon "circular" definitions of cognitive ability and disability (4-5). Moreover, according to Goodey, such instability is anathema to any discipline such as psychology which, given its pretensions to "universality and therefore scientific status," "claims to be ahistorical" (10).
What are the strategies Goodey employs to demonstrate how disability is historical constructed? Here, even the first chapter is instructive. At first glance, it explores Platon on inferiority as a point of departure for Aristoteles and later generations of Europeans. Goodey construes Platon's distinction of human abilities or their lack as related to the "fundamental problem of ignorance, in which psychological, epistemological and ethical questions are inseparable from each other" (16). Support for this interpretation is largely garnered from the later (so-called non-Sokratic) dialogues written between B.C. 355 and 347, especially the Timaios, the Nomoi, and the Politikos, yet none of these form the staple reading and study of educated professionals on either side of the Atlantic. As Goodey disarmingly concedes:
Sometimes [such readers] may feel I am throwing evidence or mere assertions at them which, without previous knowledge, they are in no position to question. But that is because we are looking at a greenfield site (12).
What eventually transpires is that, for all the local variations identified chapter after chapter, the main thrust of argument over the relationship between humankind and its cognitive capacities is traduced in all senses of that word throughout the mediaeval period by way of Porphyrios Malkhos of Tyre (284ff.) whose Eisagoge and related commentaries written in the last quarter of the third century A.D. incorporated Aristoteles' logical treatises six centuries earlier within a (neo)Platonist framework. Porphyrios, in turn, was translated by Anicius Manius Severinus Boethius in the last quarter of the sixth century A.D. into what became the standard text for half a millennium on logical distinctions and the problem of universals (exemplified by the proposition, "man is a rational animal") that influential intellectuals such as Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") of Cordoba (290ff.) and Albertus Magnus of Cologne (301ff.) debated. If nothing else, this abbreviated genealogy is a bald reminder of the sheer gulf of time and place involved as we shift from Aristoteles to Porphyrios to Boethius and beyond. Yet Goodey clearly pursues his genealogy in close alignment with the injunctions of a Mary Henle in her April 1976 contribution to the Annals of the New York Academy of the Sciences, "Why Study the History of Psychology?" There, she sees the task of the historian as alerting us to "theoretical or conceptual errors," not methodological ones; as recognizing that we do not operate with sets of "isolated and unrelated propositions"; as accepting that "the meaning of an item is determined by the context in which it appears"; as upholding the need "to make explicit the implicit assumptions of [one's] predecessors" and thereby "to examine a criticism in the context of somebody else's point of view" (1976, 14-16).
However, current readers with a background in psychology and cognate areas may demand a more grounded explanation of shifting conceptions of intellectual capacity or its opposite than one that simply adduces an historical glossary drawn from a multitude of ancient, mediaeval, and renaissance texts. The challenge is not to the sheer duration of Latin as a lingua franca for centuries of intellectuals. Rather, one might suggest, it lies partly in what Goodey refers in passing to "lexical fluidity" (293), to the need to "reconnoitre the relevant vocabulary" (16) (and, as we shall shortly see, partly in his appeal to social manifestations of intelligence as "a disguised comparative" (72) by way of its identification and legitimation with "in-groups").
The "fluidity" of cognate expressions of intellectual disability and its antithesis--expressions that Goodey assumes are aimed at describing attributes of the less than human as if they were relatively fixed or enduring or universal properties rather than as dispositions to act or perform in certain ways under certain conditions--are ultimately presented as lexical networks or semantic fields that, by their very existence, demonstrate the very artifice of disability. Intellectual disability, in short, fails to refer or to be defined in any substantive way. Here, perhaps, lies a gap in Goodey's provocative argument. Semantically, meaning is constantly differentiating both within and between generations of those using a language. Language changes with the very activities it articulates as all translators know only too well. For example, dare in Italian has to contends with a multiplicity of lexical fields in English--to give, to grant, to permit; to announce, to appoint, to commit; to generate, to produce, to yield; and so forth--just as the English to see conjures in Italian a web of other fields--comprendere, connoscere, osservare, scopire, and vedere (the latter itself evoking to notice, to observe, to perceive, and, of course, to see). As James Ross hypothesizes in his 1992 essay, "Semantic Contagion,"
The...semantics and pragmatics of infants is the very same...for the [discourse] of adults, and for the meanderings of the deranged. The differences lie in the experience base and the contexts of action....[in] the distinct experiences of crafts [and professions], and in pragmatic traction, the mutual molding between talk and doing (1992:167).
Perhaps the force of Goodey's extended historical account needs to foreground more succinctly, in Ross' terms, the "adaptation of meaning (of the same words) to varying semantic contexts--namely, semantic contagion--and that...is everywhere in discourse and is principled" (1992: 168). Talk of disability is not simply an artifice nor is it arbitrary; it does refer, albeit as the consequence of the engagement, rightly or wrongly, of juridical, theological, philosophical, and psychological discourse with endeavours of the day.
What are we to make of Goodey's persistent attack upon the invidious social dimension of excising the intellectually disabled from our understanding of what it is to be human? Here, too, one wonders whether his humanistic concerns could have been more appropriately foregrounded for present-day readers by reference to the widely disseminated socio-psychological investigations into prejudice, stereotyping, and social identity by Henri Tajfel and colleagues from the late 'sixties. What Goodey simply construes as disputes over status in which intelligence or its lack becomes implicated (63ff.), Tajfel by contrast postulates as the tendency to categorize one's social identity in terms of membership in one or more "in-groups" and maintaining one's distinctiveness by re-enforcing boundaries with other groups. These boundaries can range across actual or imagined perceptions of brute and institutional factors, including, singly or jointly, any of economic, educational, ethnic, intellectual, linguistic, moral, occupational, political, regional, religious, and/or sexual differences.
The above discussion, finally, returns us to the consequences of John Locke's baleful influence upon the "conceptual apparatus of modern psychology" (15). From the very beginning of his lengthy monograph, Goodey declares that there are eleven presuppositions of modern psychology and its handling of intellectual disability that he wishes to challenge. Amongst these, as we have already seen, are that "intelligence marks what is fully or typically human"; that "psychological laws" uphold a prerequisite "set of detailed intellectual operations," "common" to and "observable" in all humans "bar a few," namely "logical reasoning, abstraction," and the like which signify "cognitive competence"; that, as the "mind can be separated from the body," intellectual disability can be comprehended as "running in parallel with physical disability"; that "Cognitive psychology...is an exact science, based on empirical data drawn from...performance under observation; hence performance is evidence of ability, or simply is ability"; and that "Intellect is quite separate from morals" (15). Despite Goodey's omission of pertinent theoretical support in his intellectual history, we would do well to heed him.
© 2012 R.A. Goodrich
R.A. Goodrich teaches in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, co-edits the online refereed arts-practice journal, Double Dialogues, and co-ordinates with Maryrose Hall a longitudinal project investigating behavioral, cognitive, and linguistic aspects of higher-functioning children within the autistic spectrum of disorders.