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Thomas S. SzaszReview - Thomas S. Szasz
The Man and His Ideas
by Jeffrey A. Schaler, Henry Zvi Lothane, and Richard E. Vatz (Editors)
Routledge, 2017
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Aug 29th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 35)

First from Google:

Thomas Stephen Szasz was an American academic, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He served for most of his career as professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. Wikipedia

BornApril 15, 1920, Budapest, Hungary

DiedSeptember 8, 2012, Manlius, New York, United States

Known forCritique of psychiatry

ParentsGyula SzászLily Szász

Quotes

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.

If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.

The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. [Source]

Second: who would be interested in reading this book?

Have an interest in "mental illness"? Or, perhaps the mind/body problem as articulated in Cartesianism? Or, philosophy of language - if we can name it does that mean it exists? Or, nominalism/idealism questions – do abstract objects exist? Or, how about Russell's teapot - Russell's teapot was an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, to refute the idea that the onus lies somehow upon the sceptic to disprove the unfalsifiable claims of religion or any scientific or philosophic endeavour? Or, mental illness in general – does it exist? If so, just what is it? Or, free will/determinism? Or, is there a pill for every abnormal condition in the human condition? What is the nature of addiction? Cults? Aeschylus and schizophrenia? Philosophy of mind? Interdisciplinary studies? Neroscience? Psychiatry? Interested in knowing more about Thomas Szasz? All of the above? Any of the above?

This book is for you!

 "Future historians will cast Thomas Szasz as the great moral philosopher of psychiatry: the 20th century's most intrepid campaigner for the blindingly obvious. People do not have "mental illnesses," as they suffer from cancer or diabetes, but experience a wide range of moral, interpersonal, social and political "problems in living." Today, Szasz remains misrepresented and misunderstood—cast as a "mental illness denier" or an "antipsychiatrist."

Szasz always acknowledged that people could, and often did, experience great distress. However, he believed that it diminished them to attribute this to some "ghostly" presence called "mental illness." This, he felt, might suggest they were powerless to change. In this way, Szasz is the philosophical "godfather" for all contemporary "self-help," "mutual-support" and "empowerment" groups. [Source]

Szasz was a critic of our enchantment with psychiatry and his 1961 book, The Myth of Mental Illness, has been reissued several times now and is a classic example of a critic working from within a discipline to question its basic premises and raison de etre.  In 1963 he wrote: "Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State. This is perhaps the major implication of psychiatry as an institution for social control." He also stated that the psychiatrist should not be allowed in the courtroom. He was a fierce defender of individual rights, of atheism, and of so-called "talking" therapy. What makes him so interesting is his interest in and knowledge of philosophy, science, medicine, literature, and psychiatry.

The book is an excellent review of his work and of his ideas, as well as offering some criticisms of his arguments. It contains a number of essays by colleagues that bring into focus the life and impact of Thomas Szasz on the discussion of mental illness and personal responsibility. The book has four sections:

·         Part 1. Psychiatry and the World after Szasz

·         Part II. Exorcizing a Myth

·         Part III. Through a Szaszian Lens

·         Part IV. Afterthoughts

Each part presents two or three essays on topic. Psychology Today, written shortly after Szasz's death: "If there ever was a critic of our enchantment with psychiatry, it was Thomas Szasz, MD, who died this past week at the age of 92. His 1961 book, The Myth of Mental Illness, provided the philosophical basis for the antipsychiatry and patient advocate movements that began in the 1960s and have flourished ever since. Szasz (pronounced "zoz") argued that a disease model was a category error when it comes to accounting for "problems in living." The New York psychiatrist, who was born in Budapest and immigrated to the United States in 1938, was originally trained as a psychoanalyst and was on the faculty of SUNY Upstate until retirement. He shunned the medical model of psychiatry, which he saw as inherently coercive. He was an early critic of psychiatry's former disease model of homosexuality. He argued vigorously against the use of involuntary hospitalizations, the insanity defense, and the psychiatric control of psychotropic medications. His influence has permeated both clinical psychiatry and psychology, leaving the profession with a stronger emphasis on social justice and a legacy of psychiatric skepticism." [Source]

The publisher's web site states:

Szasz enlightened the world about what he called the "myth of mental illness." His point was not that no one is mentally ill, or that people labeled as mentally ill do not exist. Instead he believed that diagnosing people as mentally ill was inconsistent with the rules governing pathology and the classification of disease. He asserted that the diagnosis of mental illness is a type of social control, not medical science.

The editors were uniquely close to Szasz, and here they gather, for the first time, a group of their peers—experts on psychiatry, psychology, rhetoric, and semiotics—to elucidate Szasz's body of work. Thomas S. Szasz: The Man and His Ideas examines his work and legacy, including new material on the man himself and the seeds he planted. They discuss Szasz's impact on their thinking about the distinction between physical and mental illness, addiction, the insanity plea, schizophrenia, and implications for individual freedom and responsibility. This important volume offers insight into and understanding of a man whose ideas were far beyond his time.

The book is a testament to a great teacher, humanist, atheist and libertarian.

 

© 2017 Bob Lane

 

Bob Lane is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Vancouver Island University.

 

 


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