Our Blindness to Sicknesses of the Mind


Plutarch, Whether Afflictions of the Spirit or Body Are Worse, 501a-b


“To start, doctors want a person not to be ill and then, if he is ill, not to be ignorant of it. This is how it is also for diseases that affect the mind. For, men do not seem to know when they are doing wrong when they act stupidly, engage in vice, or commit injustice—some even think they are doing right. For, even though no one ever claimed that a fever was healthy or that consumption was being in good shape or that gout was being swift-footed or that jaundice was a youthful complexion, many have called a bad temper “manliness”, they have called lust “friendship”, envy “admiration”, and cowardice, “patience”.

While those who sense that they need something for what is ailing them call doctors, the others avoid philosophers because they think they are doing fine in the very matters they are messing up. Maintaining this logic, we would claim that defective eyesight is worse than madness and that gout is worse than a swollen brain!”


διὸ παῖδες ἰατρῶν βούλονται μὲν μὴ νοσεῖν τὸν ἄνθρωπον, νοσοῦντα δὲ μὴ ἀγνοεῖν ὅτι νοσεῖ· ὃ τοῖς ψυχικοῖς πάθεσι πᾶσι συμβέβηκεν. οὔτε γὰρ ἀφραίνοντες οὔτ’ ἀσελγαίνοντες οὔτ’ ἀδικοπραγοῦντες ἁμαρτάνειν δοκοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἔνιοι καὶ κατορθοῦν. πυρετὸν μὲν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὑγίειαν ὠνόμασεν οὐδὲ φθίσιν εὐεξίαν οὐδὲ ποδάγραν ποδώκειαν οὐδ’ ὠχρίασιν ἐρύθημα, θυμὸν δὲ πολλοὶ καλοῦσιν ἀνδρείαν καὶ ἔρωτα φιλίαν καὶ φθόνον ἅμιλλαν καὶ δειλίαν ἀσφάλειαν. εἶθ’ οἱ μὲν καλοῦσι τοὺς ἰατροὺς (αἰσθάνονται γὰρ ὧν δέονται πρὸς ἃ νοσοῦσιν), οἱ δὲ φεύγουσι τοὺς φιλοσόφους, οἴονται γὰρ ἐπιτυγχάνειν ἐν οἷς διαμαρτάνουσιν. ἐπεὶ τούτῳ γε τῷ λόγῳ χρώμενοι λέγομεν, ὅτι κουφότερόν ἐστιν ὀφθαλμία μανίας καὶ ποδάγρα φρενίτιδος·

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