Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Madness and Sanity 8

The Rise of Psychopathology

Roy Porter, 1946  —  2002,  was a British historian noted for his prolific work on the history of medicine.
In medicine, pathology (This word pathology is from Greek πάθος, pathos, "feeling, suffering"; and -λογία, - logia) is the study and diagnosis of disease.  The term "pathology" refers in the sciences to the study of disease, not specifically in the domain of biology. For example, in psychology, the term "psychopathology" refers to classifying mental illnesses and diseases.  Pathology, then, is how we study, describe, define and diagnose disease.  Psychopathology, consequently, is how we study, describe, define and diagnose mental illness or disease.

As the Enlightenment took hold in Europe, religion and the non-rational enthusiasm for religion began to be seen in more scientific and rational circles as a pathology itself.  Here is what Porter, the historian of psychiatry says:


The pathologization of religious madness led Enlightenment free-thinkers to pathologize religiosity at large.  In effect, this was also, much later, Freud's position.  God was an illusion, faith "wish-fulfilment," and belief, though all too real, was a mental projection satisfying neurotic needs, to be explained in terms of the sublimation of suppressed sexuality or the death wish. (Porter, p. 32)

Voltaire 1694 - 1778 - aka Francois Marie Arouet



It is not surprising that such philosophes of the French Enlightenment as Voltaire and Diderot had said that Christian beliefs were "the morbid secretions of sick brains." (Ibid., p. 32).

The Greek Heritage: The Priority of Reason

Porter calls the third chapter of this little classic Madness: A Brief History (O.U.P., 2002) by the title  "Madness Rationalized.".  In this chapter he seeks to trace the history of rational thought about madness as opposed to non-rational feelings-orientated reactions to this same reality of mind.  He starts with the thoughts of the Greeks to whom we owe so much culturally - their land was the very cradle of Western culture from philosophy to literature to architecture to mathematics, and this list could go on. Within Greek thinking, the rational loomed large and the sense of the irrational in humankind was feared as a danger to the soul or mind. Socrates notoriously slighted the gods, and, later his pupil Plato analysed the structure of the psyche, viz., reason, spirit, the passions and the soul.  Still later this latter's pupil, Aristotle, defined humankind classically as a "rational animal" which is surely one of the most quoted descriptions of humankind, thereby assuring the domination of the rational in Western culture. The following is, to my mind, a superb summary of the Greek influence not alone on Western thought in general but also on its thought with respect to mental health and mental illness.  I will quote Porter fully here, if the reader will have patience with the writer:


Plato (c. 428 - c. 348 B.C.) in particular condemned appetite as the arch-enemy of human freedom and dignity; and the Platonic polarization of the rational and the irrational, enshrining as it did the superiority of mind over matter, became definitive of classical values in such later philosophies as Stoicism, expounded by Seneca, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius ...
By exalting mind and valuing order and logic, Greek thinkers defined for future ages - even if they did not solve! - the problem of the irrational.  In making man the measure of all things, the plucked madness from the heavens and humanized it... (Ibid., pp. 35-36) 
To be continued.

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