A Lexicon of Lunacy
Metaphoric Malady, Moral Responsibility, and Psychiatry
Thomas Szasz is renowned for his critical exploration of the literal language of psychiatry and his rejection of officially sanctioned definitions of mental illness. His work has initiated a continuing debate in the psychiatric community whose essence is often misunderstood. Szasz's critique of the established view of mental illness is rooted in an insistent distinction between disease and behavior. In his view, psychiatrists have misapplied the vocabulary of disease as metaphorical figures to denote a range of deviant behaviors from the merely eccentric to the criminal. In A Lexicon of Lunacy, Szasz extends his analysis of psychiatric language to show how its misuse has resulted in a medicalized view of life that denies the reality of free will and responsibility.
Szasz documents the extraordinary extent to which modern diagnosis of mental illness is subject to shifting social attitudes and values. He shows how economic, personal, legal, and political factors have come to play an increasingly powerful role in the diagnostic process, with consequences of blurring the distinction between cultural and scientific standards. Broadened definitions of mental illness have had a corrosive effect on the criminal justice system in undercutting traditional conceptions of criminal behavior and have encouraged state-sanctioned coercive interventions that bestow special privileges (and impose special hardships) on persons diagnosed as mentally ill.
Lucidly written and powerfully argued, and now available in paperback, this provocative and challenging volume will be of interest to psychologists, criminologists, and sociologists.
“For many years Szasz has been one of the leading spokesmen for the "anti-psychiatric" movement. He has long argued that mental diseases are manufactured by the psychiatric establishment and that psychiatrists serve no legitimate therapeutic purpose other than enforcing societal norms. Drawing from the libertarian tradition, Szasz remains an important figure in the reform movement and an articulate critic of involuntary treatment of mental diseases, the medicalization of aberrant behaviors (alcholism, gambling, drug abuse, PMS, etc.), and suicide prevention.”
—R. F. White, Choice
"No one attacks loose-thinking and folly with half the precision and zest of Thomas Szasz. Another good book in an impressive canon."
—John Leo, U.S. News & World Report
"Thomas Szasz has created an extraordinary body of work, that continues to raise consequential challenges to the the prevailing myths of the culture of psychology."
—Tobias Wolff, PEN/Faulkner Award-winner, Stanford University