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Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz died on Sept 8, 2012. He was a great and wise man, and a friend who I miss.

The article does not say how he died. I hope he controlled and chose his own death (edit: he did commit autohomicide), because that is the best way. Here is one of Szasz's many wise comments on suicide, in his last book, Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine:
We do not and must not hold a person responsible, nor must he hold himself responsible, for a natural event or human action over which he has no control. However, we must hold a person responsible, and he should hold himself responsible, for acts that he can, or ought to be able to, control. Prohibiting death control-like prohibiting birth control and other self-regarding behaviors-reduces the individual's opportunities to assume responsibility for these behaviors and makes the person dependent on external controls instead of self-control. Therein lies the most insidious danger of using prohibitions to regulate behaviors that can, in the final analysis, be effectively regulated only by internal controls. If young people believe that they cannot, need not, or must not control how they procreate-because assuming such control is sinful or because others will assume responsibility for the consequences of their behavior-then they are likely to create new life irresponsibly. Similarly, if old people believe that they cannot, need not, or must not control how they die-because assuming such control signifies that they are insane or because others will assume responsibility for the consequences of their behavior-then they are likely to die irresponsibly.
Szasz wrote extensively about psychiatric coercion, the myth of mental illness, and related topics. He covered the history of psychiatry, drugs, suicide, ethics, the medicalization of everyday life, and more.

What fewer people know is that he was a broader thinker who went beyond psychiatry. He discussed, at a world class level, philosophical and political topics such as autonomy, self-control, responsibility and freedom. He was well read and had extensive knowledge of political philosophers and economists like Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Rand and Burke. He also understood Karl Popper's writings. He applied his expertise in these matters to psychiatric issues, in addition to having insight in psychiatry itself. His breadth was crucial to the high quality and consistency of his thinking. The norm is to stray outside one's expertise and consequently make frequent mistakes, but Szasz avoided this by having incredible breadth of understanding. And because Szasz understood so much of life, his writing was much more interesting, filled with insights applicable to more than psychiatry, and compatible with the best ideas outside of psychiatry. Further, because many parts of life and fields of thought are connected, his inter-disciplinary approach allowed for insight that narrower thinkers could not achieve.

Szasz was a truly critical thinker. It's a very rare quality, but Szasz genuinely appreciated criticism. This is one of the most important metrics for judging any intellectual and Szasz deserves immense credit for it. Szasz was also a responsible man who could take responsibility for his mistakes that were criticized, even while correcting them. He was not the type of person to make excuses and rationalizations, or to lie to himself. Nor was he the type of person to admit a mistake to himself while hiding it from others to protect a public image.

Szasz was one of the best philosophers of all time, competitive with the greats like Popper, Rand, Burke and Deutsch.

To learn more, I strongly recommend Szasz's books. I think everyone interested in ideas should read a bare minimum of ten of them. I also created an informative iOS app about psychiatry.

Update: The iOS app is out of date. You can nows get the content here for any platform.

Elliot Temple on September 12, 2012

Comments (5)

Would you recommend a specific order for reading his books (in order to understand his ideas better)?

Anonymous at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2012 | #2158

Thank you

Thomas Szasz was a great humanitarian. He saved many peoples lives by helping them help themselves.

To Anonymous, I would recommend, reading everything at the szasz.com website, all his articles at The Freeman magazine's website, just use the search function at that website.

For his books, start with The Meaning of Mind, then read Insanity The Idea and its Consequences. Then read all the rest, starting with the ones from the 2000s, Coercion as Cure, etc.

Good luck.

Basil at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2012 | #2159
In his website it says he did chose and control his own death:

Anonymous at 1:05 PM on September 17, 2012 | #2160
Oh that's good to know, thanks. I read that page before that info was posted.

Judging from the description, he did not do cryonics.

Elliot at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2012 | #2161

Szasz among others.

I saw that you favourite philosophers were:

Szasz, Burke, Popper, Godwin, Rand.

Other than Popper, which single work of each of these people would you recommend as an introduction.

Could you possibly send the recommendations to my e-mail:

[email protected]

A. Crawshaw at 3:20 AM on February 26, 2014 | #2264

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)