Friday, January 14, 2005

The Danger of Science

My article "The Danger of Science," first published in Freedom Daily, is now online.


At 12:05 AM, Blogger Lee Killough said...

Following up on Sheldon's post, I've often wondered how Szasz and those who agree with him, fit into the whole "postmodern debate" in philosophy. I'd need to go back and read Szasz's books again, but I do not recall much if any discussion on the philosophy of science, or sociology of science.

I've read lots of books on the "sociology of science", the "nature of reality", "social constructionism", etc.

Is "mental illness" a social construction?

Can behavior be "caused" by "disease", and is this scientifically testable?

For some reason this "postmodern debate" is usually presented in black and white terms, with subjectivist, liberal, postmodern, moral relativist, New Age, Marxist utopians on the one hand, and objective, science-loving, pro-Enlightenment, reality-oriented, rational people on the other. I think this is simplistic.

The only philosopher who I hear mentioned a lot in the postmodern debate, who has also written a lot about psychology/psychiatry, is Foucault. Hayek (who Sheldon mentioned) is maybe a distant second. Popper steered clear of Szaszian issues in his writings, although he was personally sympathetic to Szasz.

There are a lot of aspects of psychiatry and addiction which can framed in terms of the postmodern debate.

Yet I get the impression that Szasz would not fit closely to either side of this "debate" as it is usually expressed. Just as libertarians do not fit on either side of the left-right dichotomy, Szasz would not fit exactly on either side of the postmodern debate. For example, many "postmodernists" who question gender and sexual norms, and who are open to questioning psychiatry as well, are socialists.

At the Szasz 80th Birthday Symposium, Dr. Irwin Savodnik presented "Thomas Szasz and Post-Modernism", which pointed out the irony of Szasz's deconstruction of psychiatry.

Within the postmodern debate, you have several issues which tie in with the psychiatry question. Determinism is a big one: Can science explain and predict human behavior as well as it can explain and predict the orbits of planets? Is it only incomplete information which is preventing us from totally understanding and predicting human behavior, and should we continue lobotomizing ourselves until we figure it all out? Also, what about the difference between means and ends in science, between explaining and controlling behavior through psychiatry? In psychiatry the lines between means and ends are blurred. A "scientific explanation" of behavior, using the language and authority of science, is usually a cover for the real end, which is social control (and things like receiving taxpayers' money).

I would almost say that Szasz is closer to the realists than to the postmodernists in terms of philosophy -- for example, his insistence on objective criteria for disease -- and yet, on social issues, he is closer to the postmodernists, at least in terms of criticizing the status quo.

This is just my armchair philosopher's take on it.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

My hunch is that the issues raised here are subject to dialectical thinking as discussed in the work of Chris Matthew Sciabarra. As he elaborates in his work on Ayn Rand's thought, so many of the traditional dualisms in philosophy are counterfeit: empiricism vs. rationalism, mind versus body, etc. In other words, they are resolvable through a kind of synthesis. I am not doing this approach justice, but I think there is a lot to say for it.


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