Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

Dictionary of philosophy and psychology including many of the principal conceptions of ethics, logics, aesthetics ... and giving a terminology in English, French, German and Italian, vol. 1 [a-laws]
Baldwin, James Mark
include all degrees of defect from the slightest 
to the most severe. (j.j.-j.m.b.) 
Description. A general description may be 
profitably confined to an average case of idiocy. 
The typical idiot shows not merely mental, 
but physical defect : a blunted growth, a 
stooping attitude, a coarse skin, weak and 
flabby muscles, a sluggish circulation, a de¬ 
fective mastication and digestion of food, 
perverted or undeveloped sexual functions, 
a defective co-ordination of movements, a ten¬ 
dency to repeat a few simple automatic move¬ 
ments, a lowered sensibility (or sensory dis¬ 
order), indistinct speech, and a general absence 
of alertness, with weak memory and mental 
initiative. Inability to take care of his person, 
a defective moral sensibility, and lack of 
appreciation of the feelings of others render 
the idiot socially unfit, apart from the more 
strictly intellectual deficiency. Variations 
from the type are considered below. 
Frequency and Causes. The frequency of 
idiocy is most difficult to ascertain, owing to 
the unwillingness of the parents to report it, 
and varies markedly in different countries ; 
certain varieties, as Cretinism (q. v.) in 
Switzerland, being apparently related to 
local influences. General statistics indicate 
that one idiot to every 500 of the population 
is a conservative estimate, and that there are 
probably nearly as many idiots as insane, 
and more than the blind and deaf together 
(Ireland). Heredity or predisposing causes are 
most influential in the production of idiocy ; 
physical defects being quite as pronounced 
as mental defects, according to the results 
of Shuttleworth and Beach. A phthisical 
family history was present in 28-31 per 
cent, of the cases, inherited disease in 21-38 
per cent., and in an additional 20 per 
cent, a neurotic inheritance, in which epi¬ 
lepsy (8-69 per cent.) was frequent. The 
frequency of deafness in idiots has also been 
noted. Parental intemperance is a prominent 
predisposing cause, being found in from 13 
per cent, to 20 per cent, of all cases, but in 
as many as 38 per cent. (Kerlin) if the 
grandparents also be counted. Idiocy may 
result from shock or ill health of the mother 
during gestation, and is more frequently the 
result of accidents, &c., incidental to birth. 
Many accidental causes after birth (epilepsy, 
injury to the head, fevers, sunstroke, fright) 
may be inducing causes of idiocy, but it is 
estimated that in at least two-thirds of all 
cases there are some marked congenital defects. 
These several factors frequently act in com¬ 
bination, the inducing cause serving only to 
bring to the foreground an inherited taint. 
It should also be noted that while in some 
cases idiocy is sequential to epilepsy, the 
epileptic tendency is a marked concomitant 
of idiocy, being one of the frequent degenera¬ 
tive stigmata of the idiotic condition. 
Pathological. The appearances of gross 
brain defect observable in cases of idiocy 
comprise most of the serious abnormalities to 
which this organ is liable ; and certain forms 
of idiocy have been differentiated according 
to the pathological cause. Idiocy may re¬ 
sult from mere deficiency of brain substance, 
which is termed microcéphalie ; from hyper¬ 
trophy of the brain, one prominent form of 
which is Hydrocephalus (q. v.). Softening 
or sclerosis of the brain, tumours and affec¬ 
tions of the membranes and blood-vessels, 
asymmetries of development, atrophy of the 
cerebellum, defects of the corpus callosum, 
unusual forms of cortical cells in microscopical 
examination, &e., have been observed. Such 
defects may be distinguished according as 
they are formative or developmental, and as 
they result from inflammatory or degenerative 
Varieties. The classification of cases of 
idiocy has proceeded in part upon the time 
of appearance of the defect, upon the degree of 
intelligence retained, upon the specific patho¬ 
logical basis for the condition, and upon the 
general appearance of the case. It is thus 
described as congenital, developmental, and 
accidental ; each of which, especially the first, 
fall into many subdivisions suggestive of their 
pathology. Idiocy is also described as ‘ true ’ 
idiocy, imbecility, weak-mindedness, &c., or as 
microcéphalie, hydrocephalic, eclampsic, epi¬ 
leptic, cretinism, &c., or as Mongolian, Negro- 
like, Malay, &c. Practically the pathological 
form of classification has been most influential, 
the other modes of description serving as sup¬ 
plementary. In a measure the various forms 
have been correlated with physical peculiarities 
and psychological defects, but not sufficiently 
to enable any brief formulation of these to be 
made. For descriptions of illustrative cases 
the reader may be referred to the standard 
works cited below. 
Psychological Status. Idiocy is often spoken 
of as a state of arrested mental development, 
the unfoldment of mental power being cut off 
at the infantile or childish state. To a large 
extent this is true ; and, as indicated by the 
process of education, there is spread out over 
a long period the slow steps of progress usually


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