Madness and Civilization
|Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason|
The 1988 Vintage Books edition
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (French: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique) is a 1964 abridged edition of French philosopher Michel Foucault's 1961 work Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique. An English translation of the complete 1961 edition, entitled History of Madness, was published in June 2006.
Foucault's first major book, written while he was the director of the Maison de France in Sweden, it is an examination of the evolving relationship between madness and 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 other" as mad, he attributes this evolution to the influence of specific powerful social structures.
Discussion of madness 
Foucault traces the evolution of the concept of madness through three phases: the Renaissance, the "Classical Age" (the later seventeenth and most of the eighteenth centuries) and the modern experience. He argues that in the Renaissance the mad were portrayed in art as possessing a kind of wisdom, a knowledge of the limits of our world, and portrayed in literature as revealing the distinction between what men are and what they pretend to be. The art and literature of the Renaissance depicted the mad as engaged with the reasonable, but they marked the beginning of an objective description of madness and reason, as though seen from above, compared with the more intimate medieval descriptions from within society.
Foucault contends that in the mid-seventeenth century, in the midst of the age of reason, madness began to be conceived of as unreason and the mad, previously consigned to society's margins, were now separated from society and confined, along with prostitutes, vagrants, blasphemers, orphans and the like, in newly created institutions all over Europe. Their condition was seen as one of moral error, they were viewed as having freely chosen the path of unreason, and the institutional regimes were meticulous programs of punishment and reward aimed at causing them to reverse that choice. The social forces Foucault sees as driving this confinement include the need for an extrajudicial mechanism for getting rid of undesirables, and the regulation of unemployment and wages (the cheap labour of the workhouses applied downward pressure on the wages of free labour). He argues that this confinement made the mad conveniently available to medical doctors who then began to view madness as a natural object, worthy of inquiry; and that the conceptual distinction between the mad and the reasonable was in a sense a product of this physical separation into confinement.
For Foucault the modern experience began at the end of the eighteenth century with the creation of places devoted solely to the care 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 the 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 soon lost sight of and the institution came to be seen as the only place where therapeutic treatment can be administered. He sees the nominally more enlightened treatment in these new institutions as just as cruel and controlling as that of their rational predecessors.
...modern man no longer communicates with the madman [...] There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence.
Foucault, Preface to the 1961 edition.
Brazilian sociologist José Guilherme Merquior discusses Madness and Civilization in his book Foucault (1985; part of the Fontana Modern Masters series on prominent intellectuals). 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. For example, Merquior notes that there is abundant evidence of widespread cruelty to and imprisonment of the insane during eras when Foucault contends that the mad were perceived as possessing wisdom, and that Foucault has thus selectively cited data that supports his assertions while ignoring contrary data. Madness was typically linked with sin by Christian Europeans, noted Merquior, and was therefore regarded as much less benign than Foucault tends to imply.
See also 
- Foucault M. History of Madness. Khalfa J, editor, translator & Murphy J, translator. Routledge; 2006.
- Khalfa J. in Foucault M. History of Madness. NY: Routledge; 2009. Introduction. p. xiiv–xxv.
- Foucault M. History of Madness. NY: Routledge; 2009. Preface to the 1961 edition. p. xxvii–xxxix.
- Merquior, J.G. (1985). Foucault, Fontana Press ISBN 0-00-686226-8