Existentialism and Psychiatry: Four Lectures

By Rudolf Allers | Go to book overview
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Lecture I
PSYCHIATRY AND THE INTELLECTUAL CLIMATE AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

T HE TITLE OF THESE LECTURES combines the name of a medical discipline, psychiatry, with that of a current of contemporary philosophy, existentialism. Thereby the implication is made that philosophy may have something to say, not only on psychiatry, but also to it. This claim will appear to many as rather unjustified. Though, perhaps, to-day not to such an extent as it would have been even a short time ago, but nevertheless as of questionable foundation.

That philosophy be concerned with psychiatry is indeed, a matter of course. For philosophy has to take account of all facts that are known and all theories that are proposed, and mental disease is certainly a fact on which philosophy has to meditate. That the human mind can be "unsound" at all, is a disturbing phenomenon. That a delirious patient "sees" things which his environment does not see, posits the problem of the reliability of our perceptions; and therewith of the reality of the outer world. The existence of abnormal ways of conduct raises the question of how to define normalcy, that is, human nature. The common conviction that there be universally valid moral laws as well as a universally acceptable world-view is rendered doubtful by the ideas and the behavior the psychiatrist observes. Inasmuch as philosophical anthropology or the philosophy of human nature is one of the most important chapters in all attempts at a philosophical interpretation of all that is, psychiatry, obviously, deserves the greatest attention on the part of the philosopher.

Why should the psychiatrist be concerned with philosophy? Such a demand sounds strange. Psychiatry is an empirical dis

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