Thomas Szasz

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Thomas Szasz (born April 15, 1920 in Budapest, Hungary) was a Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York. Szasz is a critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry.


The Second Sin (1973)

  • If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic.
    • "Schizophrenia"
  • Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults.
    • "Emotions"
  • In the United States today, opiates are the religion of the people.

Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry (1979)

  • The gist of my argument is that men like Kraepelin, Bleuler and Freud were not what they claimed or seem to be — namely, physicians or medical investigators; they were, in fact, religious-political leaders and conquerors. Instead of discovering new diseases, they extended, through psychiatry, the imagery, vocabulary, jurisdiction, and hence the territory of medicine to what they were not, and are not, diseases in the original Virchowian sense.

The Untamed Tongue: A Dissenting Dictionary (1990)

  • Parents teach children discipline for two different, indeed diametrically opposed, reasons: to render the child submissive to them and to make him independent of them. Only a self-disciplined person can be obedient; and only such a person can be autonomous.
  • The concept of disease is fast replacing the concept of responsibility. With increasing zeal Americans use and interpret the assertion "I am sick" as equivalent to the assertion "I am not responsible": Smokers say they are not responsible for smoking, drinkers that they are not responsible for drinking, gamblers that they are not responsible for gambling, and mothers who murder their infants that they are not responsible for killing. To prove their point — and to capitalize on their self-destructive and destructive behavior — smokers, drinkers, gamblers, and insanity acquitees are suing tobacco companies, liquor companies, gambling casinos, and physicians.
    Can American society survive this legal-psychiatric assault on its moral and political foundations?
  • People, especially liberals and psychiatrists, say that the two main causes of crime are mental illness and poverty. Insanity is therefore a defense in the criminal law. If we really believed that poverty caused crime, we would have a "poverty defense" as well, attorneys calling professors of economics to testify in court whether a particular defendant is guilty of theft or not by reason of poverty.
  • The Greeks distinguished between good and bad behavior, language that enhanced or diminished persons. Being intoxicated with scientism, we fail to recognize that the seemingly technical terms used to identify psychiatric illnesses and interventions are simply dyphemisms and euphemisms.
  • In the natural sciences, language (mathematics) is a useful tool: like the microscope or telescope, it enables us to see what is otherwise invisible. In the social sciences, language (literalized metaphor) is an impediment: like a distorting mirror, it prevents us from seeing the obvious.
    That is why in the natural sciences, knowledge can be gained only with the mastery of their special languages; whereas in human affairs, knowledge can be gained only by rejecting the pretentious jargons of the social sciences.


  • Insanity is the only sane reaction to an insane society.
  • Classifying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as diseases is a logical and semantic error.
  • Among animals, it's 'eat or be eaten'; among humans, it's 'define or be defined.'
  • When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.
  • The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity.
  • People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.
  • Men are rewarded and punished not for what they do, but rather how their acts are defined. This is why men are more interested in better justifying themselves than in better behaving themselves.
  • The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?...[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.
  • Men are afraid to rock the boat in which they hope to drift safely through life's currents, when, actually, the boat is stuck on a sandbar. They would be better off to rock the boat and try to shake it loose.
  • There is much that is physical in mental disorders and much mental in physical disorders.

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