The reason/emotion dualism in Western political thought and psychiatric practice

Serafimov, Alex (2020) The reason/emotion dualism in Western political thought and psychiatric practice. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis examines whether Western psychiatric practices reflect how the relationship between reason and emotion has been conceptualised in Western political thought. It also investigates whether Western political conceptions of the relationship between reason and emotion can be used to criticise these psychiatric practices, and whether these psychiatric practices harm patients’ ability or willingness to partake in political action. It does this by looking at two case studies, the lobotomy procedure and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), before discussing how a dozen Western political thinkers have conceptualised the relationship between reason and emotion. These thinkers are Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Epictetus, Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Martha Nussbaum. In this way, this thesis politicises psychiatric practices and engages mental health professionals and political theorists in an overdue discussion between their fields.

This thesis uncovers that despite an ancient tradition which sees emotions as interfering with reason, Western political thought contains arguments that take a more positive view towards the emotions. For example, beginning with Hume and Rousseau in the 1700s, there is a shift towards rehabilitating the emotions and challenging the idea that reason and emotion are separate and conflicting faculties in the mind.

It is clear, then, that the lobotomy procedure and CBT reflect some of the least subtle and most dualistic thinking about reason and emotion in Western political thought. Although neither therapy aims to eradicate the emotions, their practitioners still try to significantly reduce patients' emotions so that they can begin to think and act more “rationally”.

This thesis also shows how lobotomy and CBT harm the ability and willingness of patients to partake in political action. Lobotomy, by reducing patients’ ability to feel strongly about any particular thing, removes the emotional motivation they need to be effective political actors. Meanwhile, CBT discourages patients from treating their negative emotions as normal reactions to unpleasant circumstances. Instead, CBT therapists instruct them to see their emotions as evidence of a failure to reason “correctly” about the world. In this way, patients are discouraged from ameliorating their immediate circumstances, let alone envisaging social change.

The thesis argues, therefore, that mental health professionals would benefit from examining the surprising subtlety with which reason and emotion are treated in Western political thought. They would relearn the lesson expressed in Western political thought after Hume and Rousseau that an unemotional person would make a bad citizen, unable and unwilling to fight against injustice.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Pierson, Chris
Burns, Tony
Keywords: Reason, emotion, passion, mental health, psychiatry, psychotherapy, lobotomy, psychosurgery, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT, history of medicine, medical humanities, politics, political theory, philosophy, history of Western philosophy, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Epictetus, Augustine, Hobbes, Hume, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Nussbaum
Subjects: J Political science > JC Political theory
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Politics and International Relations
Item ID: 61111
Depositing User: Serafimov, Alex
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2020 04:40
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2020 04:41

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