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Talk:Thomas Szasz

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I would like to propose changes to this RW entry on Thomas Szasz. Initially I suggest that the emotionally loaded term 'grandaddy of mental illness denial' be replaced with an accurate portrayal of the views expressed by Szasz in his writings. So, initially, I would like to include the following.

1. Szasz does not deny that the conditions which are defined by society as 'mental illness' do not exist (people suffer!)but only that those conditions have not been proven to be a disease as defined by scientifically-based medicine.

2. Szasz is not a dualist and, states that the mind is not a physical object, as are the organs of the body, and therefore it cannot be inspected, prodded, or examined directly by any scientific instrument. The mind is a process not a thing - the word itself has its origins as a verb and only recently has been adopted, confusingly, as a noun. As such Szasz's position is philosophically similar to Gilbert Ryle.

3. Szasz adopts the definition of disease as is defined by the German pathologist Rudolf Virchow in his book Cellular Pathology.

4. Szasz therefore claims that the term 'mental disease' is a metaphor which has been literalised in the same way that the economy can be said to be 'sick'. As such the term has no medical or scientific validity.

5. Szasz obviously accepts that diseases of the brain exist, such as tumours or strokes, and that these condition can effect the behaviour of individuals. Brain disease is in the province of neurology and not psychiatry. He does not deny that what is called 'mental illness' can be caused by organic brain disease, such as in neurosyphilis, but when the underlying pathology is discovered then the illness is removed from psychiatry to an appropriate medical speciality. Indeed, if all conditions that are defined as 'mental illness' are found to have a biological basis then psychiatry as a discipline would actually disappear.

6. Szasz states that no behaviour or misbehaviour can be a disease. Psychiatric illness, as defined in the DSM can only define symptoms of misbehaviour and currently lacks any objective medical tests or even biological markers to use in order to make a diagnosis. Without any etiology, psychiatry cannot cure. Szasz, taking his cue from Popper with whom he had correspondence, therefore describes psychiatry as a pseudoscience.

7. Szasz therefore questions what 'mental illness' actually is, and examines this by exploring how psychiatry has been used within society and for whose purpose it furthers.

Any thoughts anyone? --Dirk Steele (talk) 17:33, 5 September 2012 (UTC)

Fun fact for the audience: Dirk Steele has been the target of one of the External links.--ZooGuard (talk) 17:59, 5 September 2012 (UTC)
And it was quite fun. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded. Mainly because of comments I made on his old blog regarding 'Mental Illness Denial'. Part 1 (there are 5 parts in total), can be found here . I do not think Steven Novella has read anything by Szasz as he does not seem to understand his views and thus misrepresents. I am probably in agreement with most of his other skeptic views although I do find his blog a little bland and obvious. I much prefer Neurosceptic and Neurobonkers for my neurology fix. --Dirk Steele (talk) 18:38, 18 September 2012 (UTC)
Also I found it quite amusing that such an intelligent respected famous skeptical scientist would even consider blogging about an old drunken idiot and his misconceived views on psychiatry. But enough about Szasz..he even mentioned me and called me a troll! I think I must have touched a raw nerve there... Dirk Steele (talk) 23:07, 18 September 2012 (UTC)

Why is this page considered a low priority? Considering the impact on society I think the priority should be raised to high. I would like to prevent 40,000 lobotomies, forced sterilisations,chemically induced brain damage by doctors etc etc from ever happening again. Or are unnecessary and avoidable political/ religious deaths not a consideration of 'importance'? Dirk Steele (talk) 00:58, 29 September 2012 (UTC)

I am currently reading Szasz's book Ceremonial Chemistry. A work of genius I think. Has anyone here read any Szasz?

Use of the word 'gulag'[edit]

It's not a major issue, but since this is RationalWiki, I thought there should be some attempt at precise language and quality research. This would include using words properly. the Gulag was a specific government organization in the Soviet Union that was disbanded shortly after Stalin's death. Not all political prisoners were sent to Gulag administered prisons during the Stalin era even. In many cases, victims of Soviet 'psychiatry' were sent to mental institutions, not Gulag administered work labor camps. So, it would be better to use the term 'imprison', rather than 'thrown into the gulag'. You can see here that the GULAG system was not generally used for these types of prisoners to begin with. Dietwald (talk) 16:58, 23 November 2012 (UTC)

I've edited the section to be something like "prison (often erroneously called "gulag" in the West, see talkpage for explanation)". Fair compromise?--Logic and Empricism (talk) 17:59, 23 November 2012 (UTC)

Why the continual reverts? Is it just the facts do not accord to a cool story bro?

"strange" relationship?[edit]

The article states, "Szasz had a rather strange relationship with the mentally ill due to his position. He viewed most who had been diagnosed with mental disorders as people who were simply different and had been violated by state force. However, he was horrified by the insanity defense and seemed to harbor some fear or grudge against the severely mentally ill who were prone to violent acts." Is it really all that strange to fear those who are prone to violent acts, whether because of mental illness or some other reason? (Whether one fears it or not just depends on whether one agrees with the violence in question or regards oneself or those one cares about as likely targets; reasonable people can disagree on when violence is appropriate. Szasz, though unwilling to regard violence as a sign of mental illness, was still a libertarian who opposed what libertarians would consider aggression. Note that this is potentially quite different from what other philosophies would consider aggression.)

As for a "grudge" against the violent mentally ill, that doesn't seem true because the approach Szasz advocates could actually be gentler on them, depending on the situation. A finding of mental illness can result a lighter punishment (as permitted by, e.g., U.S.S.G. §5K2.13 if the defendant shows signs of diminished capacity and meets other criteria) but it can also result in a heavier punishment if the court determines that the mental illness requires that the person's liberty be restricted in order to protect the public, as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3553. In some cases, that could involve getting sentenced to the maximum penalty allowable by law, even if the crime itself was not all that harmful; what the court bases its sentence on in those cases is the person's risk of causing harm in the future.

A finding of mental incompetence pursuant to U.S.C. § 4241 can result in the defendant being held in a hospital, without getting any credit for time served there that would diminish his prison sentence once he's found competent and is convicted in court. U.S. federal law also provides in 18 U.S.C. § 4243 that if a person is found not guilty only by reason of insanity, "When the director of the facility in which an acquitted person is hospitalized pursuant to subsection (e) determines that the person has recovered from his mental disease or defect to such an extent that his release, or his conditional release under a prescribed regimen of medical, psychiatric, or psychological care or treatment, would no longer create a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage to property of another", and the court agrees, he can be released. However, this proof of his non-dangerousness is subject to the clear and convincing evidence standard if he committed "an offense involving bodily injury to, or serious damage to the property of, another person, or involving a substantial risk of such injury or damage".

A prison sentence at least gives the defendant a release date, assuming he didn't get sentenced to life imprisonment; an NGRI verdict means that he can be held until he can provide pretty reliable evidence that he's not a danger. So, he could end up serving longer than what the maximum sentence would have been had he been convicted. What's more, even a prisoner who reaches the end of his prison sentence can be held indefinitely if the facility director and the court find that his mental illness poses a sufficiently serious danger, pursuant to U.S.C. § 4246. In light of all that, I would have to say that one could reasonably argue that many, if not most, mentally ill defendants are better off with Szasz's proposed reforms. Certainly I don't see reason to conclude that he held a grudge against them.

One could argue that the dangerously mentally ill are better off if they are confined in a mental hospital as a preventive measure rather than allowed to commit crimes that would result in their going to prison. This might be true if (1) the person's dangerousness could be accurately predicted and (2) the hospitals actually had treatments that were sufficiently effective and whose benefits outweighed their harms. But psychology is still in a pretty primitive state, unfortunately. The government has every reason to want to err on the side of preventing crimes that would produce bad publicity rather than to err on the side of the individual's liberty. If a person commits a violent crime, then there is proof that the government erred in not confining him; if a person who would not have committed a violent crime is held in a mental hospital, there is no way to prove that the person wasn't dangerous and should have been released. Dmitri Szasztakovich (talk) 19:34, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

One aspect of the smear: Scientology[edit]

Of course this entry is intended to smear Szasz, not to honestly characterize his views, but I'll make note of one obvious falsehood. CCHR has never been a "front" group as the term is commonly used and defined in dictionaries. Its association with Scientology has never been concealed. In fact, the CCHR web site makes its origin clear[1]:

CCHR was co-founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus Dr. Thomas Szasz at a time when patients were being warehoused in institutions and stripped of all constitutional, civil and human rights.

I suppose it is the purpose of a so-called RationalWiki to promote falsehood and paranoia.

I'd snark about Scientology propaganda showing up here, but I'm more annoyed that you couldn't even bother to sign your edit. Like, really? Y'all can follow tons of mad rules handed down by a sci-fi writer and infiltrate the United States government, but you can't check a website's rules? Wow. Lazy. --PosthumanHeresy (talk) 00:16, 29 August 2015 (UTC)


Rational Wiki and Thomas Szasz.[edit]

Mentioned. (talk) 13:32, 15 July 2015 (UTC)