Place of Birth
Govanhill, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Foundation of Teaching
Psychiatry, Existential Philosophy, Alternative
Example of Teaching
“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.”
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R. D. Laing
Ronald David Laing (7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989) usually cited as R. D. Laing, was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing’s views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day.
Laing was seen as an important figure in the anti-psychiatry movement although he never denied the value of treating mental distress. He challenged the core values of a practice of psychiatry which he thought considered mental illness as a biological phenomenon without regard for social, intellectual and cultural dimensions.
He also challenged psychiatric diagnosis itself, arguing that diagnosis of a mental disorder contradicted accepted medical procedure: diagnosis was made on the basis of behavior or conduct, and examination and ancillary tests that traditionally precede the diagnosis of viable pathologies (like broken bones or pneumonia) occurred after the diagnosis of mental disorder (if at all). Hence, according to Laing, psychiatry was founded on a false epistemology: illness diagnosed by conduct, but treated biologically.
He published a number of books in the 1960s and 1970s, including the groundbreaking The Divided Self (1960) and The Self and Others (1961). Laing’s stated intention was to “make madness, and the process of madness, comprehensible”, and he argued that mental illness was often a reaction to an individual’s inability to cope with family and social pressures. He was also one of the founders of the Philadelphia Association, which offered alternative approaches to the treatment of mental health at a number of residential communities.
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- “We can see other people”s behaviour, but not their experience.”
- “Children do not give up their innate imagination, curiosity, dreaminess easily. You have to love them to get them to do that.”
- “Many of us do not know, or even believe, that every night we enter zones of reality in which we forget our waking life as regularly as we forget our dreams when we awake.”
- “If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know I know, I think I don’t know.”
- “Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”
- “We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world–mad, even, from an ideal standpoint we can glimpse but not adopt.”
- “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”