Eugène Minkowski

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Eugène (Eugeniusz) Minkowski
Born (1885-04-17)17 April 1885
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 17 November 1972(1972-11-17) (aged 87)
Paris, France
Residence Warsaw (until 1905)
Germany (until 1909)
Kazan (until 1913)
Munich and Zurich (until 1915)
France (from 1915)
Nationality Polish, then French
Citizenship Russian (until 1918 )
French (from 1918)
Alma mater Imperial University of Warsaw
University of Breslau
University of Göttingen
University of Munich
Known for Schizophrenia research, Évolution Psychiatrique, élan vital
Spouse(s) Françoise Minkowska née Franciszka Brokman
Awards Croix de guerre 1914–1918, Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur
Scientific career
Fields Medicine, psychiatry, phenomenology, phenomenology of perception, phenomenology (psychology)
Institutions Burghölzli Hospital
French Army in World War I
Hôpital Sainte-Anne (fr)
Influences Karl Jaspers, Eugen Bleuler, Ludwig Binswanger, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler
Influenced Henri Ey, R.D. Laing, Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Eugène (Eugeniusz) Minkowski (French pronunciation: ​[øʒɛn mɛ̃kɔwski]; 17 April 1885 – 17 November 1972) was a French psychiatrist of Jewish Polish origin, known for his incorporation of phenomenology into psychopathology and for exploring the notion of "lived time". A student of Eugen Bleuler, he was also associated with the work of Ludwig Binswanger and Henri Ey. He was influenced by the philosophy of Henri Bergson and by the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler. He was a prolific author in several languages and regarded as a great humanitarian.

Life and career[edit]

Minkowski was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, into a Jewish Polish family. He was second of the four sons of August Minkowski, a Warsaw banker and his wife, Tekla, née Lichtenbaum. When he was 7 years old, the family returned to the Polish capital where he attended school and started his medical studies at the Imperial University of Warsaw. However, due to political repression from the czarist government, the university was temporarily closed in 1905. He was obliged to continue his studies at Breslau University (3 semesters), at Göttingen University (2 semesters) and finally, at Munich University (3 semesters)[1] where he obtained his medical degree in 1909.[2] As a Russian subject, he went on to practice medicine in Kazan to obtain Russian certification, and while there, met his future wife, Franciszka Brokman, also a doctor and later known as 'Françoise'. They married in 1913. The couple settled in Munich, where Françoise pursued further work in psychiatry while Eugène took up the study of mathematics and philosophy, attending lectures by Alexander Pfänder and Moritz Geiger, pupils of Edmund Husserl.[3] The outbreak of World War I forced them to seek refuge in Zurich with Minkowski's brother, Mieczysław (Michel). There, Minkowski and his wife both became assistants to Eugen Bleuler at the Burghölzli, a university clinic where Carl Gustav Jung and Ludwig Binswanger had practised earlier. In 1914 he finished a work entitled Les éléments essentiels du temps-qualité – The Essential Elements of Time-Quality. In 1915, the couple had a son, Alexandre Minkowski, later a pioneer of French neonatology and father of the noted orchestra conductor, Marc Minkowski, followed in 1918 by a daughter, Jeannine, a lawyer. In March 1915 he had enlisted as a medical volunteer in the French army. He saw action at the Battle of the Somme and at Battle of Verdun, where his bravery earned him several citations and military decorations, including the Croix de Guerre. He became an officer of the Legion of Honour and obtained French nationality. Of this period, Minkowski said:

"During the war we were waiting for peace, hoping to take up again the life that we had abandoned. In reality, a new period began, a period of difficulties and deceptions, of setbacks and painful, often fruitless efforts to adapt oneself to new problems of existence. The calm propitious to philosophic thought was far from reborn. Long, arid, and somber years followed the war. My work lay dormant at the bottom of my drawer".[4]

After WW1, the family removed to Paris permanently and Minkowski returned to medicine and partially abandoned his philosophical pursuits. He worked on the perception of time as a vector in psychopathology, drawing heavily on his unpublished work on Bergson, whom he had known personally. In 1925 he became one of the co-founders of a movement and a journal in psychiatry, known as l'Ėvolution psychiatrique. In 1926 he wrote a doctoral thesis on "La notion de perte de contact avec la réalité et ses applications en psychopathologie" – The Notion of Loss of Contact with Reality and its Applications in Psychopathology, and began work at St. Anne's Hospital, a leading mental hospital in Paris. In 1927 he published La Schizophrénie on schizophrenia, followed in 1933, by Le Temps Vécu – Lived Time. In this, his only book published in English, Minkowski sought to use phenomenology as an approach to psychopathology. He proposed that the pathology of patients should always be interpreted in light of their experience of time. Unable initially to find a publisher he funded a thousand copies himself . It was eventually published by J.L.L. d'Artrey to whom Minkowski dedicated the new edition of the work. Minkowski was in the Resistance during World War II and directed the work of a charity to protect children from the Shoah, which saved thousands of Jewish children. In 1946 he gave one of the first Basel lectures on the psychological suffering during Nazi persecution and went on to testify as an expert witness in numerous subsequent lawsuits. He was the author of some 250 clinical papers and publications.[5] Eugène Minkowski died in 1972. His funeral was attended by a large crowd, including his psychiatrist friend and collaborator, Henri Ey.

Philosophy and psychopathology[edit]

Philosophically, Minkowski was influenced by Bergson and the phenomenologist Max Scheler, who had developed separate accounts of Time, (see Bergson's 1889 work Time and Free Will and his analyses of the irrational nature of time). Following Bergson's account of élan vital, Minkowski developed what he named as vital energy, an account of the essence of time. He was also attracted by the practice of the Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler and attempted to synthesize ideas from psychiatry with philosophy, taking an approach similar to Karl Jaspers'. He introduced phenomenology as part of his investigations into psychopathology. He sought thereby to explain the experience of patients who appeared to suffer from distortions of time and/or space. Minkowski's first research into the psychopathology of schizophrenia was inspired by Bergson and appeared in his 1927 work La Schizophrénie, which he thought was "due to a deficiency of intuition, a sense of time and to a progressive hypertrophy of the grasp of spatial factors".[6] Based on his dissertation, he considered that schizophrenic patients display a "loss of vital contact with reality" unlike others who experienced life as a "lived synchronism" or what he called "syntony", a notion borrowed from Ernst Kretschmer. According to R.D. Laing, Minkowski made "the first serious attempt in psychiatry to reconstruct the other person's lived experience" and was "the first figure in psychiatry to bring the nature of phenomenological investigations clearly into view".[7] He is quoted on the first page of Laing's classic The Divided Self:

"Je donne une œuvre subjective ici, œuvre cependant qui tend de toutes ses forces vers l'objectivité." I offer you a subjective work, but a work which nevertheless struggles with all its might towards objectivity.

He was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Zurich in 1955 and the University of Warsaw in 1965.

Major works in French[edit]

  • La Notion de perte contact vital avec la réalité et ses applications en psychopathologie (Paris: Jouve, 1926)
  • La schizophrénie: Psychopathologie des schizoïdes et des schizophrènes (Paris: Payot, 1927)
  • Le Temps vécu. Étude phénoménologique et psychopathologiques (Paris: D'Artrey, 1933)
  • Vers une cosmologie. Fragments philosophiques, (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1936)
  • Traité de psychopathologie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968)
  • Au-delà du rationalisme morbide (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000)
  • Écrits cliniques, (Eres, 2002)

Articles in French[edit]

  • 1920 "Famille B... et famille F..., contribution à l'étude de l'hérédité des maladies mentales" (in collaboration with F. Minkowska). Annales médico-psychologiques (Paris), LXXVII, 303-28.
  • 1923 "Étude psychologique et analyse phénoménologique d'un cas de mélancolie schizophrénique.", Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique, 20, 543–558.
  • "Contribution à l'études des ideés d'influence" (in collaboration with R. Targowla). L'Encéphale, XVIII, No.10, 652–59.
  • 1925 "La genèse de la notion de schizophrénie et ses caractères essentiels", L'Évolution psychiatrique.
  • 1927 "De la rêverie morbide au délire d'influence", L'Évolution psychiatrique.
  • 1938 "Á propos de l'hygiène mentale : Quelques réflexions", Annales médicopsychologiques, avril.
  • 1946 "L'Anesthésie affective", Annales Médico-Psychologiques, 104, 80–88.
  • 1952 "Le Rorschach dans l'œuvre de F. Minkowska", Bulletin du groupement français du Rorschach.
  • 1963 "Vers quels horizons nous emmène Bachelard", Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 17e année, no. 66, fasc 4.
  • 1964 "Métaphore et Symbole", Cahiers Internationaux de Symbolisme, n°5.
  • 1965 "À l'origine le un et le deux sont-ils nécessairement des nombres ? À propos du monisme et du dualisme", Revue philosophique de Louvain, 63.

Articles in German[edit]

  • 1911 "Zur Müllerschen Lehre von den spezifischen Sinnesenergien." Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane (Leipzig), XLV, 129-52.
  • 1913 "Die Zenkersche Theorie der Farbenperzeption (Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis und Beurteilung der physiologischen Farbentheorien)." Zeitsschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, XLVII, No. 2, 211–22.
  • 1914 "Betrachtungen im Anschluss an das Prinzip des psychophysischen Parallelismus". Archiv für die gesamte Psychologie (Leipzig and Berlin), XXXI, 132–243.
  • "Inhalt, symbolische Darstellung und Begründung des Grundsatzes der Identität als Grundsatz unseres Vorstellens". Archiv für systematische Philosophie (Berlin), XX, No. 2, 209–19.
  • 1923 "Bleuler's Schizoidie und Syntonie und das Zeiterlebnis". Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie (Berlin), LXXXII, 212-30.
  • "Probleme der Vererbung von Geisteskrankheiten auf Grund von psychiatrischen un genealogischen Untersuchungen an zwei Familien" (in collaboration with F. Minskowska). Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie (Zurich), XII, 47–70.

Major work in English[edit]

  • Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, trans. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970.

Articles in English[edit]

  • 1923 "Findings in a Case of Schizophrenic Depression", trans. Barbara Bliss in Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. (pp. 127–138) New York, NY, US: Basic Books. Rollo May (ed.), 1958.
  • 1926 "Bergson's Conceptions as Applied to Psychopathology", Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 63, n°4, juin, 553–568.[8]
  • 1947 "The Psychology of the Deportees", American OSE Review 4, Summer-Fall.

Articles in Polish[edit]

These include:

  • Przyroda, zwierzęcość, człowieczeństwo, bestializm „Przegl. Filoz.” R. 44: 1948 – 'Nature, animalism, humankind and bestiality' in the Polish Philosophical Review, 44. 1948
  • Psychopatologia i psychologia („Neurologia, Neurochirurgia i Psychiatria Pol.” 1956), Z zagadnień schizofrenii (tamże 1957) – 'Psychopathology and Psychology' in the Polish Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 1956.
  • Prostota (w: „Szkice filozoficzne Romanowi Ingardenowi w darze”, W.–Kr. 1964) – 'Simplicity' in Philosophical Sketches dedicated to Roman Ingarden, Kraków, 1964.

Articles in Spanish[edit]

  • 1933 "La Psiquiatria en 1932" (in collaboration with P. Guiraud). Revista de criminologia, psiquiatria y medicina légal (Buenos Aires), XX, 322-37.
  • "La Psiquiatria en 1933" (in collaboration with P. Guiraud). Revista de criminologia, XXI, 250–364.


  1. ^, Polish National Dictionary of Biography, accessed 26 July 2016.
  2. ^ "International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis". Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Spiegelberg, Herbert (1972). Phenomenology in Psychology and Psychiatry. Northwestern University Press. p. 237. ISBN 0810103575. 
  4. ^ Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, trans. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970. pp. 6–7.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Lived Time, p. 272.
  7. ^ R.D. Laing, "Minkowski and Schizophrenia," Review of Existential Psychology XI (1963), 207.
  8. ^ Jonathan Crary, "Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern culture".

External links[edit]