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From Patients to Persons

The Psychiatric Critiques of Thomas Szasz, Peter Sedgwick and R.D. Laing


Janet Vice

The role of psychiatric theory and practice has become increasingly controversial in contemporary society. Both psychiatry's scientific status as a medical specialty and its moral legitimacy as a helping profession have been called into question by outstanding figures within the profession. This original study examines the work of three leading critics of psychiatric theory and practice - Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing, and Peter Sedgwick - from a specifically philosophical perspective. The author argues that disagreements over the nature, role, and failures of psychiatry are traceable to philosophical disagreements over the meanings of personhood and community. From Patients to Persons identifies the metaphysical and axiological assumptions at the heart of these disagreements. In so doing, it provides fresh evidence that philosophy plays a key role in the structure and evaluation of our medical, social and political practices.
Contents: A philosophical study of three contemporary critiques of psychiatric theory and practice: those of Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing, and Peter Sedgwick. It argues that Szasz's attack is based on a theory of persons and community structured by autonomy, while Sedgwick relies on an organic model of community and personhood. Laing's critique is criticized for attempting to articulate a theory of personhood which fails to ground itself in a coherent theory of community.