Pharmacological Calvinism

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Pharmacological Calvinism is a term describing the disapproving or condemning attitude of some Americans to the use of psychiatric medication. It reflects a perceived general distrust of drug use for purposes of restoring or attaining pleasure or happiness. The term was first used in 1972[1] by the late psychiatrist Gerald L.Klerman (1929–1992[2]). According to this view, the only legitimate use of drugs is for the purpose of curing or treating illness and disease.

Peter D. Kramer defined the concept of pharmacological Calvinism as "a general distrust of drugs used for non-therapeutic purposes and a conviction that if a drug makes you feel good it must be morally bad".[3]

Those advocating this outlook may see pain and suffering as vital aspects of the human condition and take the view that to absolve people of these experiences would remove an essential aspect of their humanity. Thus, this use of pharmaceuticals is seen by some as dangerously dehumanizing. Klerman wrote at a time when there was growing concern about American drug use, both legal (tranquilizers) and illegal (cannabis, LSD, etc.) The stoic attitude that strong people tough it out, while weak, self-indulgent people give in and seek an artificial, chemical release from life's travails, persists among many Americans today. This manifests itself in the current controversies surrounding the widespread use of antidepressants (especially SSRIs) and other cognitive enhancers, such as Ritalin for attention deficit disorder.

It has been pointed out that, strictly speaking, Klerman misrepresents Calvinist theology in the use of this term.[4]


  1. ^ Klerman, G.L. (1972), "Psychotropic hedonism vs. pharmacological Calvinism", Hastings Cent Rep. Sep;2(4):1–3.
  2. ^ Lambert, Bruce (1992),“Gerald L. Klerman, 63, an Expert On Depression and Schizophrenia” (Obit), The New York Times (April 5).
  3. ^ Kramer, Peter (1993), Listening to Prozac, New York City: Viking
  4. ^ Menand, Louis (2010) "Head Case", The New Yorker; March 1 issue.