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The Birth and Social Role of the Psychological Sciences: A Comparative Historical Perspective

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  1. Introduction
  2. When 'Disease' became equal to sin
    1. Major philosophical and literary tendencies prior to the rise of the Church
  3. The leper, the Church and the society
    1. The phenomenon of leprosy
    2. The attitude of social exclusion
    3. The social scapegoat of the early Middle Ages
  4. The heretic: He who casts doubt on popular morality
    1. Europe's scapegoat from the issue of Pope Lucius III's decree in 1184
    2. Aaberrant behavior after the 12 century
    3. Belief in the existence of demonic possession
    4. The heretic, the mentally ill and the Church
    5. The collective European consciousness
  5. Psychology: The application of science or the implementation of morality?
  6. Concluding remarks: Holders of a supposed universal truth
  7. Bibliography

Taxonomical terms like depression, schizophrenia, neurosis, and psychosis, among many others, are today wielded with ease by doctors and are readily accepted by patients. While they are thought to be scientifically objective qualifications, a crucial examination of the social context of their use demonstrates something altogether different.

[...] Then, by simply charging someone with heresy, the person became a discredited individual; the stigma attached to such persons was insurmountable, they lost their status as human beings and were relegated to a realm of social darkness. Now, in the mental health profession one who seriously questions the infallibility of scientific and empirical investigation becomes a discredited member of the profession; he is often shunned and regarded as an unserious, unscientific thinker. It must be added that, while it flourished, the Inquisition did not offend the sensibilities of most people although men did all they could to stay out of the clutches of the Church.[18] It is only retrospectively that we perceive the nature of such a movement. [...]

[...] While the technical vocabulary surrounding the marginalization of the mad has certainly evolved, the social role they play is perhaps merely an extension of a dominant morale that tends to have little tolerance for difference. After exploring the historical path of what I refer to as the "ethics of domination," we shall attempt to suggest how contemporary psychology has affected the very way we have come to see ourselves vis-à-vis the other. I shall then attempt to show how today's notions of alterité are deeply rooted in and affected by the scientific paradigm of psychology. [...]

[...] The pattern of dominance over and repression of difference continued in a different form after the decline of the Church's authority. We have seen how religious ideals permeated society to such an extent that they infiltrated into medical and even scientific thought. It would seem as though the High Priest of Medieval society has transcended the barriers of time, that he has made his way, under different guises, into modern society. Before, society's regulator wore the theologians robe, whereas today he wears the Doctor's coat. [...]

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