November 08, 2017
David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, wrote an essay that was published on the Philosophy Talk website on November 6. The piece, titled “Achieving a Measure of Insanity,” discusses the philosophical significance of psychoanalysis.
Smith describes the psychanalytic process as revolving around what Freud called the basic rule of free association, which entails a patient articulating every thought that comes into his or her mind, in a completely uncensored manner. Smith states that it is part of human nature to demonstrate resistance to free association—to struggle with not censoring one’s thoughts. “Psychoanalysis teaches that everyone is subject to resistance,” he explains. “There’s no such thing as a resistance-free person, because resistance, and the psychological forces underpinning it, are aspects of the human condition. Looking at life from a psychoanalytic perspective, it becomes clear that what’s celebrated as psychological 'normality' is a kind of performance -- a systematic pretense that all of us (or almost all of us) silently and unthinkingly embrace. It’s not for nothing that the word ‘person’ is derived from the Latin ‘persona,’ a word for the masks worn by actors.”
Smith concludes that, ironically, it is the person who is deemed mentally healthy by ordinarily social standards who is most alienated from his or her inner life and who, in essence, leads a double life, while it is the person “who cannot pull off the performance” who is considered mentally ill.
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