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1964 abridged edition of a 1961 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. An English translation of the complete 1961 edition, titled History of...

1964 abridged edition of a 1961 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. An English translation of the complete 1961 edition, titled History of madness pdf of Madness, was published in June 2006. Foucault’s first major book, Madness and Civilization is an examination of the evolving meaning of madness in European culture, law, politics, philosophy and medicine from the Middle Ages to the end of the eighteenth century, and a critique of historical method and the idea of history. It marks a turning in Foucault’s thought away from phenomenology toward structuralism: though he uses the language of phenomenology to describe an evolving experience of the mad as “the other”, he attributes this evolution to the influence of specific powerful social structures.


The condition of these outcasts was seen as one of moral error. They were viewed as having freely chosen prostitution, vagrancy, blasphemy, unreason, etc.

He argues that the conceptual distinction between the mad and the rational was in a sense a product of this physical separation into confinement: confinement made the mad conveniently available to medical doctors who began to view madness as a natural object worthy of study and then as an illness to be cured. For Foucault the modern experience began at the end of the eighteenth century with the creation of places devoted solely to the confinement of the mad under the supervision of medical doctors, and these new institutions were the product of a blending of two motives: the new goal of curing the mad away from their family who could not afford the necessary care at home, and the old purpose of confining undesirables for the protection of society. These distinct purposes were lost sight of, and the institution soon came to be seen as the only place where therapeutic treatment can be administered.

He sees the nominally more enlightened and compassionate treatment of the mad in these modern medical institutions as just as cruel and controlling as their treatment in the earlier, rational institutions had been. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence. Merquior argues that while Foucault raises important questions about the influence of social forces on the meaning of, and responses to, deviant behavior, Madness and Civilization is nonetheless so riddled with serious errors of fact and interpretation as to be of very limited value.

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