Dialogues in Philosophy
Mental and Neuro Sciences

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

The official journal of Crossing Dialogues
Volume 12, Issue 1 (June 2019)

W. Griesinger: an approach towards the “body-mind problem” and the unitary psychosis
Ida Gualtieri
Two centuries after his birth, we have reviewed the main work of the German psychiatrist W. Griesinger, “Pathology and treatment of mental disease” (1845).
In the 19th century, a worldwide debate emerged on the nature of mental illness. Although the question appeared to be relatively simple, it has never been really answered to this day: “Should
mental illness be associated with body or mind functioning?”. Griesinger never aligned to one of the two sides. He did not want to give up his psychological contribute, nor his medical approach to mental illness.
Conversely, his most widely cited sentence, that is “all mental illnesses are cerebral illnesses”, has been extrapolated from a longer sentence, which has been questionably interpreted. Conversely, what should really be highlighted of Griesinger’s thought and work is its attitude to empiricism. Indeed, the author invites to suspend judgement in relation to metaphysical questions and to ascribe to the brain psychological phenomena in the same way we ascribe to other organs their functions.
Concerning the classification of mental disorders, Griesinger was highly influenced by his clinical mentor, A. Zeller. In contraposition with the idea of the existence of several mental disorders, Griesinger claimed the existence of a single mental illness, which would be exhibited through a characteristic, “constitutional” sequence of phases.
Given that the entire class of mental disorders is currently only known from a symptomatic point of view, according to the author it is only possible to distinguish different complexes of symptoms as different forms of mental illnesses.
“At the pre-sent time, we should refer to the functional, psychological classification principle, rather than to the anatomic one”. This symptomatic subdivision is for Griesinger exclusively a clinical distinction, which does not mirror a single and unitary underlying process.
Griesinger, body, soul, brain disorders, materialism, unitary psychosis
Dial Phil Ment Neuro Sci 2018; 11(2): 48-52