Sunday, October 11, 2009

Quote of the Day (Irving Kristol on Religion, Psychoanalysis, and Mental Health)

“Psychoanalysis is unlike traditional medicine in that nature does not so readily supply us with a working definition of the psychically ‘normal.’ Our definition of physical normality (‘health’) is not something we have strenuously to imagine or blindly to postulate, and there are obvious and sharp limits to possible disagreement; it is simply given to us because we are what we are. But psychoanalysis is in a more ambiguous position. Its definition of mental health has to be in good measure ‘thought up,’ and it must be done by men whose ideas are influenced by their lives and times. Psychoanalysis is always open to the accusation that its criteria of ‘neurosis’ and ‘mental health’ and ‘adjustment’ have a cultural bias, and are influenced by political ideologies, national prejudices, and personal whims. To take the accusation in its most general form: any psychoanalytical approach which, out of diplomatic cordiality toward religion, renounces its claim to an objective knowledge of human nature or to a lasting, true insight into the fundamental constitution of existence, must admit that it is historically and socially conditioned. And once there is no objectively true human nature which is taken as the norm, there is no possibility of general agreement on what it means to be ‘sick’ and what it means to be ‘cured.’ We can then have Communist analysts, Nazi analysts, democratic analysts, anarchist analysts, all with irreconcilable criteria of mental health.”—Irving Kristol, “God and the Psychoanalysts: Can Freud and Religion Be Reconciled?”, Commentary, November 1949

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