Moral insanity and psychological disorder: the hybrid roots of psychiatry

Jones, David W. (2017). Moral insanity and psychological disorder: the hybrid roots of psychiatry. History of Psychiatry, 28(3) pp. 263–279.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0957154X17702316

Abstract

This paper traces the significance of the diagnosis of ‘moral insanity’ (and the related diagnoses of ‘monomania’ and ‘manie sans délire’) to the development of psychiatry as a profession in the nineteenth century. The pioneers of psychiatric thought were motivated to explore such diagnoses because they promised public recognition in the high status surroundings of the criminal court. Some success was achieved in presenting a form of expertise that centred on the ability of the experts to detect quite subtle, ‘psychological’ forms of dangerous madness within the minds of offenders in France and more extensively in England. Significant backlash in the press against these new ideas pushed the profession away from such psychological exploration and back towards its medical roots that located criminal insanity simply within the organic constitution of its sufferers.

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