Man’s desires are determined by nature and are not to be denied. The Stoics stressed the need to assert the will so as to deny the impulses. The two schools’ metaphysics came to greatly influence their view on mental disorder (and as a consequence the nineteenth century’s view of the same). The Epicureans believed that all existence was atomic, that is material. What in the philosophy of Kant was to be found in the distinction between the transcendent and the immanent, the Epicureans claimed that all phenomena existed in this, the physical, realm (the immanent).
All matter consisted of atoms. More important for the question of madness, the Epicureans asserted an important claim related to psychology. Epicurean philosophy begins with a psychological claim that all knowledge originates in sensation. The material organization of the body is such that experience becomes recorded in memory and can be revived in the form of concepts. By association, these concepts come to stand for the items originally given in experience. ..All experience is the outcome of interactions. ..between material entities-the matter of the world and the matter of the sense organs.
(Robinson 1986, p. 99) This contrasted with the Stoic view of human knowledge and existence as being transcendental. As opposed to an atomic basis of existence, the Stoics believed “that a rational principle (logos) guides the universe. ..” (Robinson 1986, p. 100). For the Stoics there was a “fifth element” which formed the basis of things and which was beyond human perception. There were, according to them, laws of nature, but it was the human will and soul which allowed man to resist desire and thus the universe.
One school held that everything was a product of the body, the other that all was a product of the mind. The ancients subscribed to a belief that mental illness was a sign of the “anger of the gods”. This did not stop some from investigating and speculating as to the true cause of madness. The battle in the nineteenth century between psychogenic and somatogenic interpretations of human psychology finds its origins with the Stoic and Epicurean argument over the nature of human thought (and thus madness).
Psychogenic is made up of the Greek words for “soul” (psyche) and “origin” (genesis). Somatogenic comes from “body” (soma) and “origin” (genesis). Thus psychogenic means “soul-originating” and somatogenic means “body-originating”. Epicurean materialism could not accept a transcendent soul.
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