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date: 20 September 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This investigation of intellectual disability in the Middle Ages uncovers narratives of this perceived condition in the historical sources. Authors of normative texts, for instance, medical, legal, and natural-philosophical authorities, were the medieval equivalent of modern scientific experts with regard to defining, assessing, and controlling notions of intellectual disability. This new and specific discussion seeks to reframe the paradigm of what constituted intellectual disability at different periods in both medieval and modern times. Philosophically, and subsequently judicially, medieval intellectual disability was considered the absence of reason, representing the irrational, which contrasted the mentally disabled with the Aristotelian concept of the human being as the rational animal. Medieval terminology employed a fluidity of definitions, which highlights the constructedness of terms revolving around intellectual disability. Analyses of the culturally specific constructions of intellectual disability enhance our knowledge of the intellectual heritage underpinning current concepts of cognitive and mental pathologies.

Keywords: intellectual disability, madness, medieval medicine, philosophy, theology, history of ideas, terminology, historical semantics

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