'They can be violent, witty, cheerful, embarrassing, brilliant and unbearable like Bukowski, or else melancholic, hallucinating, unimaginative, euphoric, inconspicuous, cruel or harmless, and always unruly’
On what grounds can a human being be diagnosed as mad? a central problem addressed in this express course exploring the philosophical limits of madness.
‘Madness deals not so much with truth and the world, as with man and whatever truth about himself he is able to perceive’, one of the conclusions Michel Foucault makes in his Madness and Civilisation (1961). Indeed, humans seek agreement (or solidarity) on matters of fact, organisation and value. Mad people, on the other hand, transgress the prevalent norms. Interestingly, it is by testing/transgressing/correcting norms that cultures evolve. Therefore, it is not that madmen transgress only cultural norms, but also the norms and rules of rationality. To be mad is to do violence to reason and body -- to make no (common) sense; and to be excluded. Madness haunts the bounds of culture and, deeper, the limits of reason philosophers traditionally aim to elucidate and evaluate.
Hence, an inquiry into the prominent historical accounts and examples of madness is an important task for anyone interested in the art of philosophical reasoning and the phenomenon of culture, particularly their fringes. Structurally, this course pays homage to Foucault’s seminal book and elaborates on his findings in a number of ways:
1. Classics: Ignorance, Inspiration, Meaning
Strangely, Foucault provides no discussion of the philosophical and literary roots of madness buried in Classical antiquity. Potentially this can be a major oversight,--recall Orestes, Agave, Caligula,--and hence we begin by reviewing the major Classical accounts of madness exposing one’s soul, as Plato notes in Protagoras, ‘to a great danger’.
Plato. ‘Protagoras’, trans by Benjamin Jowett, in the Dialogues of Plato: 1197-1243
Plato. ‘Phaedrus’, trans by Benjamin Jowet, in the Dialogues of Plato: 1055-1115
Padel, R (1995). Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness, PUP
Werner, D (2011). ‘Plato on Madness and Philosophy’, Ancient Philosophy (31): 47-71
Ahonen, M (2014). ‘Plato on Madness and Mental Disorders’, in Mental Disorders in Ancient Philosophy: 35-67
2. Erasmus, Bosch and Shakespeare: Prudence, Fatal Disease and Melancholia
In this lecture, drawing from philosophy and art, we first follow Foucault’s lead and probe into the Renaissance masters of humanism. Here, we will demonstrate how cultural norms can dominate the process of truth-formation,--here, that of folly. In addition, by looking at the figures of Hieronimo and King Lear, among others, we will ascertain an original tragic meaning of melancholy.
Erasmus (1509). The Praise of Folly, trans by John Wilson, Reeves & Turner
Foucault, M (1965). ‘Stultifera Navis’, in Madness and Civilisation: pp. 15-49
Shakespeare, W (2015). King Lear, Cambridge School Shakespeare
3. Descartes and de Sade: Terminal Scepticism
The third lecture considers the timeless case of rationalist insanity posited by René Descartes in the 17th century, to then consider Baruch Spinoza, who found Descartes’ argument to be ludicrous a decade after his death. In the second hour, we will take a look at Marquis de Sade, the man and the author.
Descartes, R (1641). Meditations on First Philosophy, trans by Elizabeth S. Haldane
Bostrenghi, D (2014). ‘”Unreason with Reason”: Imagination and Madness in Spinoza’s Work’, Etica e Politica (16): 305-323
De Sade, M (1791). Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, trans by John Phillips, OUP
Roche, G (2010). ‘Much Sense the Starkest Madness: Sade’s Moral Scepticism’, Angelaki (15): 45-59
4. Nietzsche and Freud: Ordinary Madness
Foucault’s book barely touches on the relevant work produced in the 19th and the 20th centuries. This week we fill the gap by considering Friedrich Nietzsche’s views on exploring the bounds of reason, his dramatic breakdown, and, of course, his piano improvisations in March 1890. In the second hour, we will overview the contribution to the debate by the father of psycho-analysis, Sigmund Freud, one of the principal intellectual rivalries of Foucault.
Berthold-Bond, D (1991). ‘Hegel, Nietzsche and Freud on Madness and the Unconscious’, Journal of Speculative Philosophy (5): 193-213
Hooke, A (2003). ‘The Most Silent of Men: Nietzsche’s Other Madness’, Journal of Phenomenological Psychology (34): 99-125
Kyle A & Atwood G (2000). “Nietzsche’s Madness’, Psychoanalytic Review (87): 651-698
Whitebook, J (1999). ‘Freud, Foucault and the “Dialogue with Unreason”’, Philosophy and Social Criticism (25): 29-66
Derrida, J (1994). ‘”To do Justice to Freud”: The History of Madness in the Age of Psycho-Analysis’, Critical Inquiry (20): 227-266
5. Foucault and his Interlocutors: Pain in Error
The final lecture sums up Foucault’s position on the problem of madness, its socio-historical underpinnings, and considers the famous debate with Derrida, as well as interesting parallels with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Our discussion will also be guided by the recent literature intersecting philosophy and psychiatry, the cutting-edge examples found therein, and, ultimately, we will try to determine whether philosophy can provide a ground to recognise madness.
Foucault, M (1965). Madness and Civilisation, trans by Richard Howard, Vintage Books
Derrida, J (1978). ‘Cogito and the History of Madness’, in Writing and Difference: 42-55
G.P.B. (1979). ‘Cogito Incognito: Foucault’s ‘My Body, This Paper This Fire’, Oxford Literary Review (4): 5-28
Wittgenstein, L (1958). Philosophical Investigations, trans by G.E.M. Enscombe, Wiley-Blackwell