Sunday, December 07, 2008

David Hume attempts to do psychotherapy

Here is an anecdote that I ran accross in Paul Laffey's "Two registers of madness in Enlightenment Britain," History of Psychiatry 13(2002) 367-80. The philosopher "David Hume was hired to provide tutelage for the increasingly insane Lord Annandale in the mid 1740s, and began this period convinced that Annandale needed moral guidance from a 'friend' upon whose 'conduct and discretion' hopes for recovery depended. Hume found it 'strange [that] so considerable sums shoul'd be lavisht on apothecaries and physicians, who perhaps do hurt, and a moderate sum be grudg'd to one who sacrifices all his time to him.' However, if Hume was indeed experimenting with a moral account of insanity, experience soon set set him to rights, and not three weeks later he conceded that Annandale's 'caprice came from nobody, and no cause, except physical ones.' This story does serve to imply that some thinkers were prepared to assay moral models of mental derangement, but Hume's rapid abandonment of this progect shows, …that insanity's somatic substrate remained firmly entrenched as the dominant framework. And notably, Hume wrote nothing further on madness as a philosophical problem."

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