Psychiatry, language and freedom

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 3 (3):397-416 (1982)
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For political reasons, the social control functions of psychiatry are not openly recognized as such but are disguised as benevolent medical treatment. The roots of this disguise may be traced to the political revolutions in which the rule of man was replaced by the rule of law. This transformation generated a conflict between the desire for freedom under law and the desire for a greater degree of social control than is provided by law. Involuntary mental hospitalization is the neurotic resolution of this conflict by society. The social control functions of psychiatry are disguised and justified by the medical model which describes the moral action of both psychiatrist and patient in the ostensibly value neutral language of science and medicine. The cost of this disguise is great. It negates individuals as moral agents and obscures the moral nature of the problems that psychiatrists seek to understand which, in turn, handicaps them in helping the persons they seek to assist. The task of the philosopher in this situation is honestly and critically to analyze and evaluate psychiatric language, psychiatric practices and the moral issues involved.



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