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Journal Article

The Quantification of Intelligence in Nineteenth‑Century Craniology: An Epistemology of Measurement Perspective


Luchetti,  Michele
Max Planck Research Group Practices of Validation in the Biomedical Sciences, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

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Luchetti, M. (2022). The Quantification of Intelligence in Nineteenth‑Century Craniology: An Epistemology of Measurement Perspective. European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 12(4, Article 56): 56. doi:10.1007/s13194-022-00485-7.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-271C-B
Craniology – the practice of inferring intelligence differences from the measurement
of human skulls – survived the dismissal of phrenology and remained a widely popular
research program until the end of the nineteenth century. From the 1970s, historians
and sociologists of science extensively focused on the explicit and implicit
socio-cultural biases invalidating the evidence and claims that craniology produced.
Building on this literature, I reassess the history of craniological practice from a
different but complementary perspective that relies on recent developments in the
epistemology of measurement. More precisely, I identify two aspects of the measurement
culture of nineteenth-century craniologists that are crucial to understand
the lack of validity of craniological inference: their neglect of the problem of coordination
for their presupposed quantification of intelligence and their narrow view
of calibration. Based on my analysis, I claim that these methodological shortcomings
amplified the impact of the socio-cultural biases of craniologists, which had a
pervasive role in their evidential use of measurement. Finally, my argument shows
how the epistemology of measurement perspective can offer useful tools in debates
concerning the use of biological evidence to foster social discourse and for analyzing
the relationship between theory, evidence, and measurement.