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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the early work of R. D. Laing, in particular his first book, The Divided Self (1960a), in which he sought to understand schizoid states and schizophrenia in terms of existential philosophy and phenomenology. He contrasted his approach which he characterized as an “existential-phenomenological construction” with the standard, disease model approach as exemplified by Emil Kraepelin. Laing contends that the patient’s behavior can be seen either as “signs” of disease, or as “expressive of his existence.” If we see the patient’s behavior as signs of disease, then he is the passive victim of a pathological process. However, if we see him from Laing’s existential perspective, then he is fully autonomous: he possesses agency of his actions. This is a key concept in Laing’s existentialist approach. This chapter goes on to consider in more detail how Laing drew on existential and phenomenological theory to explain disturbed mental states.

Keywords: Laing, existential philosophy, phenomenology, The Divided Self, schizoid states, schizophrenia, agency

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