Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Emergence of Morality

In addition to the first applications of Foucault’s concept of discourse, another theme that emerges in the text that I would like to comment on is that of morality in the understanding of madness and the madman as well as the proposed “treatment” of it. This topic seems to emerge most distinctly in the chapter entitled “Doctors and Patients” in which Foucault moves from the previous chapter which more so delineates various forms of madness and their respective symptoms and into the methods in which these forms and symptoms were “treated.” In the chapter, Foucault notes the fact that madness had not always been viewed as an illness which could be treated by various means. Still, even when the concept of a “cure” first came into being, it should not be understood as being medical in nature. Rather than the kind of treatment that might be received for an illness of sorts in a hospital which would essentially “correct” a problem, madness in the Classical period was understood in terms of morality and an interconnection between the body and the soul which might be said to have developed out of theories of the passions. As such, this “cure” of the madman must be something that treats not only body but the entire individual, with the soul certainly included.

It was the development of certain ideas concerning the involvement or influence of one’s lifestyle upon one’s state of madness or lack there-of which allowed medicine to bring in certain moral positions into the nature or concept of the “cure” for madness. While preceding the Classical period, madness might have been perceived as something apart from those “normal” individuals understood to still possess their sanity, now it was seen as something of a symptom of a certain kind of lifestyle and as such, was able to be made subject to the disapproval of medicine. Perhaps most interesting is the point Foucault makes concerning the development of Psychology as its own branch of medicine as being unable to exist as we know it without the central element of morality in its initial foundation.

Foucault, Michel. "Passion and Delirium," "Aspects of Madness," "Doctors and Patients." Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.

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