Moral Sickness

Mike W. Martin

in From Morality to Mental Health

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780195304718
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199786572 | DOI:

Series: Practical and Professional Ethics

 Moral Sickness

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This chapter focuses on the ways moral values are embedded in conceptions of mental disorders and positive health, focusing on when mental health is defined negatively, as in the absence of mental disorders. In the Republic, Plato proposes that the health of the mind consists in exercising the cardinal virtues: practical wisdom in making judgments, courage in confronting dangers, temperance in satisfying appetites, and justice in manifesting inner harmony in desirable conduct. Immorality is the absence of healthy self-governance, whether due to ignorance, cowardice, lack of self-control, or inner chaos. For Plato, “moral health” and “moral sickness” are not mere metaphors. They refer to mental health and pathology as defined by concepts of virtue and vice. Critics of the therapeutic trend denounce Plato's proposal as a dangerous confusion — dangerous, because equating morality with mental health gives health professionals alarming power in moral matters; confusion, because mental health and virtue are entirely different. The chapter affirms Plato's core insight: mental health and moral virtue are significantly interwoven in their meaning and reference. This is true when mental health is defined negatively, as the absence of mental disorders.

Keywords: mental health; Plato; morality; moral virtue; mental disorders

Chapter.  5266 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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