Thomas Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center

Author Quotes

Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.

If someone does something we disapprove of, we regard him as bad if we believe we can deter him from persisting in his conduct, but we regard him as mad if we believe we cannot.

It is customary to define psychiatry as a medical specialty concerned with the study, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. This is a worthless and misleading definition. Mental illness is a myth. Psychiatrists are not concerned with mental illnesses and their treatments. In actual practice they deal with personal, social, and ethical problems in living.

My argument was limited to the proposition that mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.

Psychiatrists look for twisted molecules and defective genes as the causes of schizophrenia, because schizophrenia is the name of a disease. If Christianity or Communism were called diseases, would they then look for the chemical and genetic ?causes? of these ?conditions??

The Christian ethic did not raise the worth of female life much above the Jewish: nor did the clinical ethic raise it much above the clerical. This is why most of those identified as witches by male inquisitors were women; and why most of those diagnosed as hysterics by male psychiatrists were also women.

The passion to interpret as madness that with which we disagree seems to have infected the best of contemporary minds.

We often speak of love when we really should be speaking of the drive to dominate or to master, so as to confirm ourselves as active agents, in control of our own destinies and worthy of respect from others.

By pretending that convention is Nature, that disobeying a personal prohibition is a medical illness, they establish themselves as agents of social control and at the same time disguise their punitive interventions in the semantic and social trappings of medical practice.

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

It is easier to do one's duty to others than to one's self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish.

My contention is that the psychiatric perspective on homosexuality is but a thinly disguised replica of the religious perspective which it displaced, and that efforts to ?treat? this kind of conduct medically are but thinly disguised methods for suppressing it.

Psychiatry is institutionalized scientism: it is the systematic imitation, impersonation, counterfeiting, and deception. This is the formula: every adult smokes (drinks, engages in sexual activity, etc.); hence, to prove that he is an adult, the adolescent smokes (drinks, engages in sexual activity, etc.). Mutatis mutandis: every science consists of classification, control, and prediction; hence to prove psychiatry is a science, the psychiatrist classifies, controls, predicts. The result is that he classifies people as mad; that he confines them as dangerous (to themselves or others); and that he predicts people's behavior, robbing them of their free will and hence of their very humanity.

The concept of disease is fast replacing the concept of responsibility. With increasing zeal Americans use and interpret the assertion "I am sick" as equivalent to the assertion "I am not responsible": Smokers say they are not responsible for smoking, drinkers that they are not responsible for drinking, gamblers that they are not responsible for gambling, and mothers who murder their infants that they are not responsible for killing. To prove their point ? and to capitalize on their self-destructive and destructive behavior ? smokers, drinkers, gamblers, and insanity acquitees are suing tobacco companies, liquor companies, gambling casinos, and physicians. Can American society survive this legal-psychiatric assault on its moral and political foundations?

The phrase ?The myth of mental illness? means that mental illness does not exist. The scientific concept of illness refers to a bodily lesion, that is, to a material?structural or functional?abnormality of the body, as a machine. This is the classic, Victorian, pathological definition of disease and it is still the definition of disease used by pathologists and physicians as scientific healers. The brain is an organ?like the bones, liver, kidney, and so on?and of course can be diseased. That?s the domain of neurology. Since a mind is not a bodily organ, it cannot be diseased, except in a metaphorical sense?in the sense in which we also say that a joke is sick or the economy is sick. Those are metaphorical ways of saying that some behavior or condition is bad, disapproved, causing unhappiness, etc. In other words, talking about ?sick minds? is analogous to talking about ?sick jokes? or ?sick economies.? In the case of mental illness, we are dealing with a metaphorical way of expressing the view that the speaker thinks there is something wrong about the behavior of the person to whom he attributes the ?illness.'

We shall therefore compare the concept of homosexuality as heresy, prevalent in the days of the witch-hunts, with the concept of homosexuality as mental illness, prevalent today.

By problems in living, then, I refer to that truly explosive chain reaction which began with man?s fall from divine grace by partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Man?s awareness of himself and of the world about him seems to be a steadily expanding one, bringing in its wake an ever large; burden of understanding (an expression borrowed from Susanne Langer, 1953). This burden, then, is to be expected and must not be misinterpreted. Our only rational means for lightening it is more understanding, and appropriate action based on such understanding.

If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.

It seems to me that-at least in our scientific theories of behavior-we have failed to accept the simple fact that human relations are inherently fraught with difficulties and that to make them even relatively harmonious requires much patience and hard work.

My great, unforgivable sin in The Myth of Mental Illness was calling public attention to the linguistic pretensions of psychiatry and its preemptive rhetoric. Who can be against ?helping suffering patients? or ?treating treatable diseases?? Who can be for ?ignoring sick people? or, worse, ?refusing patients life-saving treatment?? Rejecting that jargon, I insisted that mental hospitals are like prisons not hospitals, that involuntary mental hospitalization is a type of imprisonment not medical care, and that coercive psychiatrists function as judges and jailers not physicians and healers, and suggested that we view and understand ?mental illnesses? and psychiatric responses to them as matters of law and rhetoric, not matters of medicine or science.

Psychoanalysis is an attempt to examine a person's self-justifications. Hence it can be undertaken only with the patient's cooperation and can succeed only when the patient has something to gain by abandoning or modifying his system of self-justification.

The crime [homosexuality] was subject to punishment by both secular and ecclesiastical courts?just as now it is subject to punishment by both penal and psychiatric sanctions.

The proverb warnes you'',''dont bite the hand that feeds you,''but maybe you should,''if it prevents you from feeding yourself.

We speak of a person being ?under the influence? of alcohol, or heroin, or amphetamine, and believe that these substances affect him so profoundly as to render him utterly helpless in their grip. We thus consider it scientifically justified to take the most stringent precautions against these things and often prohibit their nonmedical, or even their medical, use. But a person may be under the influence not only of material substances but also of spiritual ideas and sentiments, such as patriotism, Catholicism, or Communism. But we are not afraid of these influences, and believe that each person is, or ought to be, capable of fending for himself.

Classifying thoughts, feelings and behaviors as diseases is a logical and semantic error, like classifying whale as fish.

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Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz
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Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center