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Madness and Death in Philosophy

Ferit Guven

Publication Year: 2005

Ferit Güven illuminates the historically constitutive roles of madness and death in philosophy by examining them in the light of contemporary discussions of the intersection of power and knowledge and ethical relations with the other. Historically, as Güven shows, philosophical treatments of madness and death have limited or subdued their disruptive quality. Madness and death are linked to the question of how to conceptualize the unthinkable, but Güven illustrates how this conceptualization results in a reduction to positivity of the very radical negativity these moments represent. Tracing this problematic through Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, and, finally, in the debate on madness between Foucault and Derrida, Güven gestures toward a nonreducible, disruptive form of negativity, articulated in Heidegger’s critique of Hegel and Foucault’s engagement with Derrida, that might allow for the preservation of real otherness and open the possibility of a true ethics of difference.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Even though the themes of madness and death suggest a radical solitude, this book was certainly not written in solitude. I want to acknowledge Elaine P. Miller and Daniel Price for their contributions throughout this work. They not only read earlier versions and gave me criticism and suggestions, but they have been rare “philosophical friends” over the years.


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pp. xi-xii

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INTRODUCTION: Madness and Death

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pp. 1-12

This work arrives too late, because it arrives after the event of madness. By the event of madness I refer to an inflation in discourses on madness in the last three decades.1 The scholarly curiosity about madness has long passed, even though interest in the question of death seems to be more persistent. Madness appears to be once again silenced, this time not by exclusion, but by exhaustion. This silencing exemplifies an insidious dimension of scholarship.

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1. Plato Death and Madness in the Phaedo and Phaedrus

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pp. 13-29

Readers of Plato's dialogues would recognize a constantly renewed desire to define philosophy and to distinguish it from sophistry, rhetoric, poetry, etc.1 One suspects that this attempt to delimit philosophy as a discourse is itself what philosophizing is. In Plato, reflexivity is already inscribed into the nature of philosophical activity. The Phaedo and the Phaedrus are two of Plato’s dialogues where philosophical activity is presented as a questioning of ...

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2. Hegel The Madness of the Soul and the Death of the Spirit

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pp. 31-49

Why would one concentrate on Hegel in a study about the history of the philosophical conceptions of madness? Why do we not concentrate on Hölderlin and Nietzsche, who themselves were considered to be mad, in order to understand the fate of madness in modernity? Hegel, despite the fact that he was not generally considered to be mad, occupies a unique position within the historical understanding of madness and death. First of all, Hegel both adopts and yet significantly modifies Plato’s conception of madness.

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3. Heidegger Death as Negativity

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pp. 51-81

Heidegger's contribution to the question of madness has to be understood in the context of the role of negativity in his thinking. As in the case of Hegel, the themes of madness and death are related to the question of negativity for Heidegger. The underlying question of the following two chapters is whether Heidegger articulates a different conception of negativity than that of Hegel. “Negativity” does not appear to be a part Heidegger’s common ...

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4. Heidegger Madness, Negativity, Truth, and History

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pp. 83-118

The question of madness is intimately connected with the question of truth. The way in which Plato and Hegel “overcome” madness is based in turn on their conviction that madness is necessary. Madness is necessary as an access to the suprasensuous world, or to the next stage of dialectical thinking. Thus, they understand madness on the basis of the question of truth and error, albeit in different ways. By contrast, for Heidegger, the question of truth itself has to be thought differently. Heidegger does not simply articulate another discourse about truth, but the difference lies in the way discourse itself is shown ...

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5. Foucault The History of Madness

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pp. 119-155

The confrontation between Hegel and Heidegger concerns the possibility of whether madness and death can be articulated as instances of negativity without being reduced to the movement of rational thinking. Hegel incorporates madness into the dialectical thinking by displacing the principle of noncontradiction as a criterion of truth. However, such a displacement exhibits the power of reason over madness, rather than the finitude of thinking.

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CONCLUSION: Madness Is Not a Thing of the Past

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pp. 157-164

As I stated in the introduction, this work arrives too late. Madness already seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps the more significant question for philosophy today is the question of ethics. The question of ethics emerges as a result of what becomes designated as the “end of philosophy” in the twentieth century.1 Ever since Nietzsche’s so called reversal of Platonism, not only has philosophy shown itself to be incapable of achieving what it had set itself to ...


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pp. 165-192


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pp. 193-210


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pp. 211-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780791483565
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791463932
Print-ISBN-10: 0791463931

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005