Blog Archives

Madness: Unreason or Beyond Reason?

The concept of madness is one that has been around in one form or another since antiquity, however exactly what is meant by the term mad has never been laid down instead it has changed with each passing era. In some it has been the height of wisdom in others a disease on humanity’s reason, but despite the term mad being relatively new its characteristics have been around for millennia. By analysing madness from a genealogical viewpoint it should become clear that madness is less real than we first assume it to be, it is in actuality a mechanism used by institutions power to separate a conceived ‘norm’ of society from the remainder in a bid to increase their power and control over societies. Therefore madness is neither a heightened form of wisdom, nor a diminished form, but simply a tool for segregation. As already mentioned this is to be argued from a genealogical viewpoint so to begin let us first look at how madness was perceived during antiquity.

Within antiquity there was no concept of the term madness nevertheless the traits usually associated with madness still existed within society. Ancient Greece had its ‘mad’ placed within temples of worship, segregated from the rest of society, where they would be sought out for their divine wisdom. A number of these oracles existed, although the best known one is that of Delphi, the Oracle was considered to be a women, known as the Pythia (a form of high priestess), whose wisdom transcended Earth as she “was chosen to speak, as a possessed medium, for Apollo, the God of prophecy”[1], in other words she heard the voice of the gods, a trait which is often associated with the schizophrenic. Hence we can see even in this early age that the segregation of the mad occurred and it was the integrated institution of the city-state and religion which was responsible for the separation of the norm and the wise.

This view of madness as being a form of wisdom inspired by the gods continued on throughout the Roman era as soothsayers and state-augurs were held in heavy esteem for their prophecies, although both the Greek oracles and Roman soothsayers often presented their wisdom in cryptic messages, such as the famous one claimed to have been said to Julius Caesar “Beware the ides of March!”[2]. In the same way the Greek Oracles were employed by the state so too were the soothsayers, so they too were products of the institution although were integrated more within society than their Greek counterparts. In modernity such cryptic messages are often posited to be the wisdom of the drunkard and therefore ought to be disregarded as nonsense, a mirror image of the Ancient view. Now we have established of the position of madness within antiquity it is time to look at its position during the medieval and early-modern periods where Christian institutions and the Occult took madness into its next stage of evolution.      

Prymus notes that the Middle Ages was a period of significant change when regarding the view of madness as the previous mystical beliefs came into conflict with a new religious order, the rise of Christendom. Both sides still held “the common characteristics of madness…to be signs of a veiled wisdom”[3], although they regularly came into conflict with each other as the two spheres of institutionalised power clashed.

On the one side there was the old mysticism which remained in the form of the Occult and Paganism where Druids replaced the oracles and soothsayers, and new tools of divination came into existence such as tarot cards. One of the more important cards in the tarot deck is The Fool which can be used as either a symbol whereby it “represents ideas…which endeavour to transcend Earth”[4], thus a higher form of wisdom, or “if badly dignified, folly, eccentricity, even mania”[5], an irrational form of wisdom. The Fool could also be used to directly represent the person asking the question to the deck’s interpreter, hence the person was claimed to be a madman bearing either intellect or mania depending on the fall of the card in relation to the others, although the interpretation of the fall was left to the discretion of the interpreter so madness was still the mechanism used by institutions to control sections of society.

The other institution of power during this period, vital to understanding the concept of madness, is the Christian Church. Prymus claims that “the transformation from insanity as veiled wisdom to madness…begins with Christian views of the…human inability to comprehend the reason of God…those who come too close to such understanding will be driven insane”[6]. What can be said about Christianity is it tried to alienate those who practised the Occult methods by teaching in The Bible that such methods were the work of The Devil, for it says in the book of Deuteronomy “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.”[7], however this view of divination, prophecy and witchcraft as being madness and a plague on humanity was not a one-dimensional view since it was permissible to suffer from hallucinations, both visual and auditory, and be regarded as speaking the word of God, and consequently the highest possible form of wisdom. There are numerous occasions when the schizophrenic have been esteemed for their madness during the height of Christendom, for example Saint Joan of Arc who led the French to war after hearing God speak to her. So it can be argued that there was a divide between institutions of power and their view of madness during this period, however both sides held a dualistic view as to what madness was allowing them to redefine it when necessary. This dualistic interpretation of madness died out during the Enlightenment when madness was seen largely as a disease on humanity rationality. 

From the seventeenth century, and to some extent for the following two centuries, Europe saw a transformation of how power was used by institutions, Foucault documented these changes in his works in which two texts are of great significance; Discipline and Punish following the story of the prison, and Madness and Civilisation following the story of the asylum. The message behind both is clear, power is used by institutions to divide and control sections of society by means of labelling them with terms such as; mad, criminal and normal[8]. It is here that the concept of madness becomes real.

Foucault points out to us that the Enlightenment era was the age of ‘The Great Confinement’ where an established norm was held and anyone who deviated from it, in any way, was to be segregated from society for these abnormalities were “aspects of evil that have such a power of contagion…that any publicity multiplies them”[9], in other words madness was a plague which needed containing before man’s rationality was corrupted. The mad during this period were, once diagnosed, placed into asylums on which it had been said “one thing is clear: the Hôpital Général is not a medical establishment. It is rather a sort of semi judicial structure”[10]. So Foucault argued that madness had been invented during the Enlightenment as a means of controlling those whose behaviour differed from the norm, when in fact there was nothing medically wrong with them. Foucault himself even pointed this out by stating, when talking about the mind of a madman, “the marvellous logic of the mind which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same”[11]. This view of madness as that which does not follow the norm has lasted, to some degree, into modernity and it is modernity which shall be the next point of focus.             

Finally we come to modernity where the term madness has become quite broad in its scope as “we often call folks crazy when we simply find their behaviour odd”[12], so madness needs to have no medical background it only needs to be considered different from the established norm. Some of the Enlightenment’s medical view has remained since “the therapeutics of madness…whose chief concern was to sever or to ‘correct’ continued to develop”[13] in a number of guises including psychodynamic psychology, developed by Freud and Jung.

There have also been attempts to return back to the mysticism of antiquity and The Middle Ages, often referred to as new age movements, which like the druids, mystics and witches of the old regime who were condemned as mad by the influential institutions of their day, so too are the druids, mystics and witches of modernity to some lesser and greater degree. Nonetheless these new age movements have helped to highlight a point brought up by Foucault, “madness fascinates because it is knowledge. It is knowledge…of a difficult, hermetic, esoteric learning”[14] said to be associated with the wisdom of the cosmos, nature or higher entities depending on which institution you happen to find yourself within.

So it seems that modernity holds a broad spectral view of madness where it serves as both unreason and wisdom which is beyond reason, as well as everything in between so long as it differs from a perceived normality imposed by an institution of power which on occasion come into conflict for “it has become popular for psychiatrists to assume…witches were unfortunate women who ‘fell ill’ with ‘mental illness’[15]. This point has been noticed by Szasz who said “anything and everything…based on no matter what norm…agoraphobia… homosexuality…divorce…crime, art, undesired political leadership, participation in social affairs or withdrawal from such participation – all these things and many more are now said to be symptoms of mental illness”[16].

It seems to be then that madness is not something which can be regarded simply as unreason or wisdom which goes beyond reason for it depends upon the institution of power you happen to find yourself in. This suggests that there is no such thing as madness, and from this mental illness, the whole concept is down to imposed suggestions by those at the head of power within the institution. “During Charcot’s lifetime…it was suggested…that the phenomena of hysteria were due to suggestion…a charge that has since been fully substantiated”[17], this has been supported by Szasz, Foucault and Laing, amongst others, in a movement known as the anti-psychiatry movement.    

Laing argued that madness was a concept devised by others in an attempt to control and correct those who went against the norm by stating in his book The Divided Self “the technical vocabulary currently used to describe psychiatric patients is that it consist of words which split man up”[18] allowing the normal to be segregated from the mad. He also noticed that within the institution of psychiatry the guidelines for what were considered normal where not properly defined as “the textbook ‘signs’ of schizophrenia vary from hospital to hospital”[19], suggesting two things; firstly that institutions can be broken down into micro-institutions who are able to redefine normality to suit their localised needs, and secondly that there is no such thing as madness, it is a man-made construction. This may provide an answer as to why the term had never been used until the time of The Great Confinement previously mentioned.

Further support for the notion that madness is an imposed conception used by institutions to exercise their power over society in order to retain some sense of normality comes from Szasz who claims “we construct – and then ourselves come to believe in –various types of mental illnesses”[20]. In other words once we have been picked out by society as abnormal by our “failure to learn or comply with imitative rules”[21] then institutions place conceptions upon us, each with its own name and label, which we then absorb into our identity and subconsciously act within whatever framework is expected of our associated label having the belief that we have been told we are X so we must be X, and if I am X then I must act in the way an X would.

Consequently the concept of madness is strengthened as it becomes ingrained into our schemas and cognition of the world, or as Foucault puts it “the discursive movement of reason reasoning with itself, and which addresses madness as error”[22]. Once this self-cognition and acceptance has been established we fall under the control of institutions, and therefore more susceptible to their power which is exercised over us through disciplinary mechanisms[23]. Szasz and Foucault argue that these labels, disciplinary mechanisms and to some extent even our actions belong to the institutions as “the names and hence the values…depend on the rules of the system…that we use…all systems are made by people”[24].    

To conclude madness cannot be simply defined as either unreason or beyond reason, instead it needs to be looked at from a different viewpoint. If we look at madness as a man-made conception rather than a medical phenomenon then we come to see that madness is a shape-shifting term used by institutions of power to segregate and control sections of society who fail to comply with their imposed normality. This view of madness has existed since antiquity and since then it has been evolving into the complex network of disciplinary institutions we have in the modern western world.   


  • Foucault. M, 1991, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin
  •  Foucault. M, 2001, Madness and Civilization, Abingdon: Routledge
  • Laing. R, 1969, The Divided Self, London: The Camelot Press Ltd
  • Prymus. K, 2009, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M & Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 20-33
  •  Robichaud. C, 2008, ‘The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown Prince Morally Responsible?’, in Arp. R & White. M, Batman and Philosophy, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, pp 70-85
  •  Szasz. T, 1981, The Myth of Mental Illness, St Albans: Granada Publishing Ltd
  • The Holy Bible (King James Version), 2000, Michigan: Zondervan
  • ·Wasserman. J, 1978, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck, New York: Noble Offset Printers

[2] Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, 15–19

[3] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, Pg. 23

[4] Wasserman. J, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck. Pg. 6

[5] Ibid

[6] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, pp 23-24

[7] Deuteronomy 18:10

[8] Further discussion of this position can be found in both of the mentioned texts by Foucault

[9] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 63

[10] Ibid, Pg. 37

[11] Ibid, Pg. 89

[12] Robichaud. C, The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown prince Morally Repsonsible?, Pg.73

[13] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 151

[14] Ibid, Pg. 18

[15] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 191

[16] Ibid, Pg. 58

[17] Ibid, Pg. 46

[18] Laing. R, The Divided Self, Pg. 17

[19] Ibid, Pg. 35

[20] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 125

[21] Ibid, Pg.166

[22] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 174

[23] See Foucault’s  Discipline and Punish  for more detail on this

[24] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg.55


An Evaluation of Kant’s Arguments in the Analogies of Experience

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant throughout his book Critique of Pure Reason argued that time and substance are permanent, this being the case then they must be the foundations for an objective understanding of the world as opposed to the subjective understanding we are currently following based on our perceptions of phenomena. He also argues that for us to make the connection between the manifold of subjective perceptions and objective understanding we require a synthetic unity which comes to us in the form of cause and effect a tool of cognition which combines phenomena with a priori reasoning. But just how valid are Kant’s arguments? It would seem the evidence supports his claims although a small number of philosophers fear what would happen should we gain access to an objective understanding of the world and try to put us off any attempt from moving towards it.

Kant established a set of three analogies named the ‘analogies of experience’ in order to demonstrate that “experience is possible only through the presentation of a necessary connection of perceptions”[1], or in words experience is the a posteriori synthetic unity of all our perceptions merged into one single consciousness. Kant goes about proving this by making three arguments revolving around the three aspects of what he terms the ‘inner sense’ or ‘inner intuition’, to which we commonly refer to as time. These three aspects of time are thus; permanence, succession and community, with each relying on the former aspects in order for the whole argument to remain valid. Before evaluating Kant’s arguments within the analogies it is best to first give a brief summary of the arguments.

Throughout the first analogy Kant argues “in all variation by appearances substance is permanent, and its quantum in nature is neither increased nor decreased”[2] the reasoning behind this claim is that all our appearances occur within, and only within, time, therefore time must itself be a permanent fixture in the universe allowing substance to flow in sequence or form unities leading to the ever changing appearances we have. He also adds that even though time itself cannot be perceived only conceived as it is the inner sense then it must be a priori to the universe and all substance within it both of which must therefore be a posteriori by necessity. Kant also argues that substance is permanent by referring to an example about smoke, “substance endures and only the accidents vary”[3] as when wood is burnt it leaves smoke and ash but the total mass of the smoke and ash will always be equal to the mass of the wood prior to it being burnt, hence substance is a permanent fixture yet its form changes in time. Since it is only accidents that vary then it must be the case that, for Kant at least, “our apprehension of the manifold of appearance is always successive, and therefore is always varying. Hence…apprehension alone…can never determine whether this manifold considered as experience is simultaneous or sequential…unless something underlying in experience is there always.” Or in other words, the combination of our perceptions will change from moment to moment so our understanding of the world alone is not enough to construct knowledge of how the external world really is as it fails to grasp the constants hiding within it. So the first analogy Kant has argued that substance and time are the only constants in the universe with all other things undergoing change and for this reason we cannot understand the world by empirical means alone.

The second analogy is dedicated to the temporal mode of succession in which Kant tries to convince us that “All changes occur according to the law of the connection of cause and effect”[4] because all appearances succeed one another because we apply our cognition to connect our perceptions in time, thus cause and effect is a synthesising product born out of our cognition. However Kant later adds to this point “But a concept carrying with it a necessity of synthetic unity can only be a pure concept of understanding”[5] thus cause and effect is a key part of our faculty of understanding and therefore needed if we our to obtain knowledge of phenomena, this is because when we perceive phenomena we never actually perceive the object in itself. For example say you were to read the analogies within Critique of Pure Reason you would not actually be perceiving the book itself, only the manifold of all the appearances it presents to your sense of perception, thus objects in themselves remain unknown to us. This isn’t the only thing Kant believes to be beyond our comprehension he also states that “an actuality succeeding in empty time…cannot be apprehended any more than empty time”[6] the reasoning behind this is that to have empty time there must be non-existence yet in the previous analogy he concluded that substance is permanent, hence persists in every point of time making the notion of empty time absurd, from this we can make the inductive leap that cause and effect (probably) relies on substance being permanent. To conclude Kant has argued that cause and effect is the necessary synthetic unity binding time to phenomena via succession which relies on the permanence of substance if a posteriori knowledge of phenomena is to be possible.

The final analogy is concerned with community. Kant uses this analogy to argue that “All substances insofar as they can be perceived in space as simultaneous are in thoroughgoing interaction”[7] meaning that existents although seen to be existing individually, yet simultaneously, are actually existing within a community where they constantly affect one another within each instance in time. For Kant “Things are only simultaneous if their perception can…succeed one another reciprocally”[8] for example placing a ball on a cushion would cause an indentation in the cushion as the indentation makes room for the ball being placed upon the cushion, thus both occur within the same instance. This led to Kant arguing that “substances in space cannot be cognized in experience except under the presupposition that they interact with one another…Therefore every substance…must contain within itself the causality of certain determination in the other substance and simultaneously must contain within itself the effects of the other substance’s causality”[9], hence substance must contain every possible connection of cause and effect within it simultaneously so that they can be perceived as if they are in constant interaction with one another. In conclusion every substance affects all other substances as all other substances affect the substance first in question, thus substances are held in a community linked by cause and effect within time.

Gardner argues “The Analogies proceed to show that the…categories of substance and causality perform a transcendental function…tied specifically to the circumstance that we are subjects…in time”[10] because when thinking about objects as being things outside our representations we must think of them as existing within time, but beyond the assumed mental flow of our representations. If we cannot do this then objects, that is to say substance, falls back into the temporal flow making then vulnerable to change which goes against Kant’s argument that substance is permanent. Following from this we can assume that Gardner is trying to support Kant in the claim that substance is, in fact, permanent. Yet Kant holds that time and substance cannot be perceived only conceived making them a priori as Scruton argues “every category corresponds to a principle, whose truth is presupposed in its application”[11] and is therefore a priori, hence how the world is objective via necessity even if we cannot perceive it to be as such.

This notion of having time and substance as beyond perception, yet permanent and objective, implies that there must be something else outside, and beyond, phenomena where all objective knowledge must reside. Scruton states this to be the case as “we find causes only by postulating a realm of enduring things”[12], Kant adheres to this by referring to a realm of objective knowledge which he calls noumena, thus we now have what Gardner referred to as the ‘transcendental function’ of Kant’s analogies. The transcendental function being the analogies were set up in order to prove the existence of noumena in what would seem to be a dualistic epistemology similar to Plato’s concept of the Forms in the intelligible realm and substances in the sensible realm. Gardner also accepts the notion of an objective realm as all things are bound by a single objective nature, he argues “we inhabit a world…in which all objective empirical facts have a particular form, and all appearances collectively compose ‘one nature’”[13] or a manifold which Kant would say lights up an a priori resemblance to that form within noumena, as opposed to being a relative, and therefore subjective, manifold as Hume argues for.

One argument against Kant is ‘if this knowledge is beyond our perception maybe there is a good reason as to why this is the case’ a view held by Prymus who argues that “madmen were feared because it was supposed that they were driven crazy by stumbling upon hidden secrets of the universe…knowledge that no human could comprehend”[14] so for any of us to gain access to noumena would prove dangerous. We have been given warnings of this within popular culture, for example in the sci-fi series Doctor Who an evil villain known only as ‘The Master’ when placed in front of the temporal schism to see time for what it is in itself lost his mind and began plotting away against creation. Similarly in the video game Final Fantasy VI we encounter a clown called Kefka who after being infused with magic to enhance his knowledge of the universe becomes homicidal as he attempts to reduce creation to a state of non-existence. Prymus argues the reason as to why objective knowledge makes us act in such a way is because objective knowledge makes us ‘arational’, that is to say we become entities outside the sphere of rationality (neither rational or irrational), whilst outside this sphere we realise “most of us see existence as necessary, as an imperative…existence is really only…a hypothetical imperative”[15] meaning that existence is only necessary so long as it adheres to our idea of what we seek in the world.

However Prymus’ argument on first sight doesn’t seem to correspond to Kant’s analogies but only to his concept of there being a realm known as noumena, nor does it argues against any of Kant’s arguments as being true. But if we were to take Prymus’ use of the word existence in her essay and ask ‘what is existence?’ then we can answer it by looking at Aristotle who argued that existence is what exists and what exists is substance. Thus we can now deduce by the logical procedure that if X is equal to Y and Y is equal to Z then by necessity X must be equal to Z to state that existence is substance. Now we can see that Prymus’ argument actually relates to the first analogy where Kant argues that substance is permanent. Now if these warnings are true and someone does gain access to noumena and tries to destroy substance then they would also take down cause and effect and the interaction between substances making knowledge, be it a priori or a posteriori impossible. We can therefore conclude that we should not seek objective knowledge but be satisfied with the subjective empiricism offered to us by Hume, unless Kant is mistaken.

Kant originally set up the analogies in response to Hume’s arguments of cause and effect in hope that it would disprove Hume, but just what was Hume’s argument? Hume argued that “It is evident, that there is a principle of connection between the different thoughts…in the mind…To me, there appear to be only three principles of connection among ideas…resemblance, contiguity in time and place, and cause or effect”[16]. It appears that Hume, like Kant, accepts that time must be permanent and cause and effect must also exist if knowledge derived from our perceptions is to be obtainable. However this is where the similarity draws to an end as for Hume knowledge must only be based on empirical methods, and therefore we can only hope to achieve a posteriori knowledge which is subjective due to our own relative experiences of the world, the reasoning behind this is that if “we must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect…knowledge of this relation is not…attained by reasonings a priori[17] it is only through our experience of phenomena that we conceive the concept of cause and effect, for example if given two billiard balls we would never accept that the first would cause the second to move if it rolled into it unless we had seen this to be the case on a number of previous occasions so that it became a fixed continuity of how things are in accordance with the laws of Newton’s physics. Yet Hume never accepts that cause and effect exists as part of phenomena as it can not be perceived, instead it is a cognitive synthesiser uniting two separate events together consistently to produce a manifold of presentations. So if we cannot perceive cause and effect yet it still does the same job as Kant believes it does, then we can say that cause and effect lies within noumena along with time and substance, thus Hume and Kant although go about it by alternative methods seem to reach similar conclusions as to the nature of time, causality and substance.

To conclude even though Kant set off to argue against the subjective empiricism of Hume he actually constructed a set of arguments similar to Hume based upon a transcendental empiricism (otherwise known as transcendental idealism). A framework supported by, to some degree, Plato, Scruton, Hume and Gardner. However as Prymus pointed out there may be hidden dangers lurking within this realm of objective knowledge, so it might be advisable to remain contented with the subjective empiricism of Hume until we know as to whether there is any truth in Prymus’ claims or if they are just scare tactics to keep us all in the dark about how the world really is.  


  • Aristotle, 2004, Metaphysics, London: Penguin Classics
  • Gardner. S, 1999, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, Abingdon (Oxfordshire): Routledge
  • Hume. D, 2008, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Kant. I, 1999, Critique of Pure Reason (Abridged (Translated by W. S. Pluhar)), Indianapolis: Hackett
  • Kant. I, 2007, Critique of Pure Reason (Reissued Edition (Translated by Smith)), Basingstoke (Hampshire): Palgrave Macmillan
  • Plato, 2007, The Republic (second edition), London: Penguin Classics
  • Prymus. K, 2009, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M and Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 20-33
  • Scruton. R, 2001, Kant a Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press

[1] Kant. I, Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, B218

[2] Ibid, A182

[3] Ibid, A184

[4] Ibid, A189

[5] Ibid, B234

[6] Ibid, A192

[7] Ibid, A211

[8] Ibid, B257

[9] Ibid, B258-B259

[10] Gardner. S, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, Pg. 171

[11] Scruton. R, Kant a Very Short Introduction, 2001, Pg. 47

[12] Ibid, Pg. 51

[13] Gardner. S, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, Pg. 177

[14] Prymus. K, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M and Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, Pg. 24

[15] Ibid, Pg. 27

[16] Hume. D, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 2008, Pg. 16

[17] Ibid, Pg. 19

%d bloggers like this: