Alfred Binet (1857-1911) : theoretical and empirical contributions to the study of intelligence.
The myth that Binet's Intelligence Scales were created "overnight"
has already been dismissed by Theta Wolf (1969 and 1973).
However, it was felt that there was still more to be explained about
the Scales. The aim of this research therefore, was to explore and
throw light on the many factors involved in the making of this
experimental psychologist and his contribution to the study of
intelligence in the late nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth
In line with the modern approach that makes the consideration of
social factors a sine qua non of an historical account of scientific
achievement, the following aspects of France and its culture were
explored: the politics which pressed with optimism for free and
universal education; the institutional arrangements of the New
University of Paris and their implications for Binet's career; the
power of medical discourse which provided the framework within
which both clinical and educational concerns were articulated; the
broader intellectual "climate" in which scientific ideas were
disseminated, and the particular intellectual influences on Binet
Binet's work is also seen as operating at the day-to-day level with
all its practical demands: for example, his search for subjects,
visits to hospices and schools. Binet was essentially a practical and
patient researcher, giving particular attention to detail within
experiments and in observing subjects' behaviour.
By comparing Binet's views and practice with those of other
psychologists of his time, for instance Ebbinghaus, Wundt, Galton,
Cattell and Spearman, the originality of Binet's psychology is
This research has shown more clearly than elsewhere how Binet
came to practise the, psychology that he did, and how his flexibility
enabled the transforlnation of a psychological experiment into a test
item. It is proposed that the particular social nature of his
experiments and use of introspections were contributing factors.
To understand the nature of his achievement it was found necessary
to describe the genesis of the Scales through Binet's experimental
work in "Individual Psychology" and his studies of children, and to
examine the items of the Scales themselves.
Historical accounts of nineteenth century France frequently contain
comments on the power of ·the medical profession. The case of Binet
illustrates this finding: I have proposed that the doctors' power
created obstacles both potential and actual to the recognition of
Binet's experimental work. Within the context of the Pedagogical
Society and through a series of events medical power was shifted to
allow for the psychologist to construct the diagnostic tool for
assessing children's intelligence.
Finally, the Intelligence Scales provoked reactions which generated
controversy about the nature of intelligence and its measurement,
and these are discussed in this thesis.