April 2020 HHS: Critique of Psychometrics, Review Symposium on Leys’s The Ascent of Affect, and More

The April 2020 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Full details below.

“The fashionable scientific fraud: Collingwood’s critique of psychometrics,” Joel Michell. Abstract:

In his review of Charles Spearman’s The Nature of ‘Intelligence’ (1923), R. G. Collingwood launched an attack upon psychometrics that was expanded in his Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Although underrated by friend and foe alike, Collingwood’s critique identified a number of defects in the thinking of psychometricians that subsequently became entrenched. However, his main complaint was that psychology generally (and, by implication, psychometrics) was a ‘fashionable scientific fraud’. This charge was inspired by his more general views on logic and metaphysics, which, however, as I argue, are logically unsustainable. Ironically, other elements of his philosophy – his ‘fallacy of calculation’ and concept of ‘scale of forms’ – are relevant to psychometrics and tip the scales in favour of his otherwise unwarranted charge.

“‘Polynesians’ in the Brazilian hinterland? Sociohistorical perspectives on skulls, genomics, identity, and nationhood,” Ricardo Ventura Santos, Bronwen Douglas. Abstract:

In 1876, Brazilian physical anthropologists De Lacerda and Peixoto published findings of detailed anatomical and osteometric investigation of the new human skull collection of Rio de Janeiro’s Museu Nacional. They argued not only that the Indigenous ‘Botocudo’ in Brazil might be autochthonous to the New World, but also that they shared analogic proximity to other geographically very distant human groups – the New Caledonians and Australians – equally attributed limited cranial capacity and resultant inferior intellect. Described by Blumenbach and Morton, ‘Botocudo’ skulls were highly valued scientific specimens in 19th-century physical anthropology. A recent genomic study has again related ‘the Botocudo’ to Indigenous populations from the other side of the world by identifying ‘Polynesian ancestry’ in two of 14 Botocudo skulls held at the Museu Nacional. This article places the production of scientific knowledge in multidisciplinary, multiregional historical perspectives. We contextualize modern narratives in the biological sciences relating ‘Botocudo’ skulls and other cranial material from lowland South America to Polynesia, Melanesia, and Australia. With disturbing irony, such studies often unthinkingly reinscribe essentialized historic racial categories such as ‘the Botocudos’, ‘the Polynesians’, and ‘the Australo-Melanesians’. We conclude that the fertile alliance of intersecting sciences that is revolutionizing understandings of deep human pasts must be informed by sensitivity to the deep histories of terms, classification schemes, and the disciplines themselves.

“Ethics of security: A genealogical introduction,” Andrea Rossi. Abstract:

This article analyses the set of ethical questions underlying the emergence of the modern politics of security, as articulated, in particular, in the work of Thomas Hobbes. An ethic is here understood – in line with its ancient philosophical use and the interpretation advanced by authors such as Michel Foucault and Pierre Hadot – as a domain of reflections and practices related to the cultivation and conversion of the self (ask?sis, metanoia). The article aims to demonstrate that, besides attending to the physical safety of the state and its citizens, modern apparatuses of security are also crucially implicated in the formation of their subjects as ethical and autonomous individuals. To substantiate this thesis, the article first illustrates how, since the first appearance of the term in the vocabulary of Western thought – and in Seneca’s work in particular – theories of security have been intimately tied to the cultivation of the self. It thus interprets Hobbes’s reflections on the subject as the upshot of a substantive, if implicit, re-articulation of Seneca’s ethic of security, by focusing on the two authors’ respective understandings of (a) autonomy, (b) the world, (c) ascesis, and (d) politics. Overall, it is suggested that the differences between the two authors testify to a wider political-historical shift: in modern regimes of governmentality, the ethical dimension of security no longer defines the rightful exercise of political power, but rather appears as an object of social and economic governance.

“Natural law as early social thought: The recovery of natural law for sociology,” Angela Leahy. Abstract:

Natural law contains much social thought that predates sociology and related disciplines, and can be seen as part of the prehistory of the human sciences. Key concerns of natural law thinkers include the achievement of social life and society, and the individual’s place therein. However, there is an enduring tendency within sociology to dismiss the ahistoricism and universalism of natural law, and therefore to reject natural law thought in its entirety. This article proposes an approach that rescues the sociological relevance of natural law. It draws on the respective methods of Chris Thornhill and Gary Wickham, who each seek to recover the importance of natural law for sociology. Thornhill treats natural law as a valid sociological object by focusing on its functions within society rather than engaging with its ahistorical concepts. His focus on the external functions of natural law, however, leads to a neglect of the internal conceptualisations of the social world in natural law thought. This in turn leads to a misinterpretation of Hobbes and voluntarist natural law. Wickham, on the other hand, explores in detail Hobbesian conceptions of society and the individual that Wickham argues can be utilised within contemporary sociology. This article revises Thornhill’s methodological framework in order to secure a space for the recovery of natural law as social thought. This approach allows for the recognition of natural law as an important piece of the epistemological background against which contemporary understandings of the human and society emerged.

“What was fair in actuarial fairness?,” Antonio J. Heras, Pierre-Charles Pradier, David Teira. Abstract:

In actuarial parlance, the price of an insurance policy is considered fair if customers bearing the same risk are charged the same price. The estimate of this fair amount hinges on the expected value obtained by weighting the different claims by their probability. We argue that, historically, this concept of actuarial fairness originates in an Aristotelian principle of justice in exchange (equality in risk). We will examine how this principle was formalized in the 16th century and shaped in life insurance during the following two hundred years, in two different interpretations. The Domatian account of actuarial fairness relied on subjective uncertainty: An agreement on risk was fair if both parties were equally ignorant about the chances of an uncertain event. The objectivist version grounded any agreement on an objective risk estimate drawn from a mortality table. We will show how the objectivist approach collapsed in the market for life annuities during the 18th century, leaving open the question of why we still speak of actuarial fairness as if it were an objective expected value.

Review Symposium on Ruth Leys’s The Ascent of Affect
“Must we mean what we do? – Review Symposium on Leys’s The Ascent of Affect,” Clive Barnett.

“From the ashes, a fertile opportunity for historicism – Review Symposium on Leys’s The Ascent of Affect,” Rob Boddice.

“Affect theory’s alternative genealogies – Review Symposium on Leys’s The Ascent of Affect,”
Carolyn Pedwell.

“Affect, genealogy, history – Review Symposium on Ruth Leys’s The Ascent of Affect,” Elizabeth A. Wilson.

“Reply to my commentators – Review Symposium on Leys’s The Ascent of Affect,” Ruth Leys.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.