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The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality and Neuroscience [Paperback]

Thomas Szasz
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

31 July 2002
Thomas Szasz demonstrates the futility of analysing the mind as a collection of brain functions. In his previous publication "The Myth of Mental Illness", he took psychiatry to task for misconstruing human conflict and coping as mental illness. In "Our Right to Drugs", he exposed the irrationality and political opportunism that fuels the "Drug War". Here, he warns that we misconstrue the dialogue within as a problem of consciousness and neuroscience and do so at our peril.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; New edition edition (31 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081560775X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815607755
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,019,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Within the broad church of anti-psychiatry, Thomas Szasz has been foremost in challenging a narrowly biological conception of human nature. Provocative, thoughtful, and highly readable, The Meaning of Mind extends his arguments to the bleak reductionism implicit in modern neuroscience." - K. W. M. Fulford, Universities of Oxford and Warwick

About the Author

Thomas Szasz is professor emeritus of psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse. The author of more than six hundred articles and twenty-four books, he is widely recognized as the leading critic of various coercive forms employed by the psychiatric medical establishment. His books include Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry; The Manufacture of Madness and Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market, all published by Syracuse University Press.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Prof. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist and now retired medical school professor has been a highly significant and throughly important and distinguished contributor to the realm of ideas and debate about psychiatry and its uses. As Prof. Szasz recognizes, the tendency to medicalize problems-in-living notwithstanding, bad habits are not diseases, and "diagnoses" of attitudinal, behavioral and cultural characteristics as "disease" apart from any identificable trauma or lesion is a matter of circular reasoning in which the behaviors are "diseases" only by the metaphoric-analogic property of language. In this offering Prof. Szasz maintains that modern neuroscience is a misdirected effort to explain "mind" in terms of brain functions and thereby undermines the concepts of moral agency and responsibility. Everything that Szasz writes is weighty and provocative, and the discourse on which he focuses raises vital considerations for public policy and civil liberty. Hopefully the Szazian influence will continue to spread, not just among Libertarians, but among jurists, social and behavioral scientists, and policy makers, and will begin to have a noticeable policy impact in law and the practice of disciplines involved with the labelling, controlling, and regulalting of fellow human beings. Hopefully, academics and social theorists in the UK, as well as the US other common law countries, will become increasing aware of and influenced by the iconoclastic Professor Szasz.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neuromythology 31 Jan 2000
By John Friedberg - Published on Amazon.com
by John Friedberg, M.D.
Hippocrates located the mind in the brain; Descartes, the soul in the pineal gland; and in 1994, Nobel Laureate Francis Crick reported "Free Will...in or near the anterior cingulate sulcus." Diseases of the mind, "mental illnesses," are even better localized: obsessive compulsive disorder is spotted in the frontal lobes, homosexuality in the hypothalamus and Schizophrenia is assigned now to Dopamine, now to Serotonin and now to the neurotransmitter molecule "du jour." "What's going on here?" asks the author, rhetorically: "They can't all be right." Thomas Szasz, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at State University of New York in Syracuse, thinks they may all be wrong. In this, his 23rd book, he quotes Hughlings Jackson, the great 19th century British neurologist: "There is no such entity as consciousness; we are from moment to moment differently conscious...(consciousness is) the directional mechanism of attention." And paying attention (minding), thinking, and even memory are not bits of neuroanatomy like hippocampal formations. Not all words denote things. This is an entertaining book, an erudite discourse into history and philosophy, linguistics and logic. Neurologists, whose authority resides in the reality of the nervous system, may find it especially pertinent. We must be as clear as possible in our thinking about the mind and the brain. If they were identical, Dr. Szasz points out, we wouldn't have two very different words. This book is a must for those of us who need to deal rationally with the tempting tales of "neuromythology" issuing daily from the media, the drug companies, and our psychiatric colleagues. The author argues that most of the popular mind/brain theorists, in their materialist-reductionist simplifications, "...are writing science fiction or justifying the medical (psychiatric) control of deviance or both." He reminds us that people deceive themselves and others by twisting words, medicalizing straightforward sins such as bearing false witness into modern non-entities such as recovered memory syndrome, false memory syndrome, even alien abduction. Such literal or "concrete thinking" is supposed to be a symptom of schizophrenia which according to Dr. Szasz, is the "paradigmatic metaphoric illness of modernity." Quoting Immanuel Kant that "to think is to talk to oneself," the author asserts that thinking is "self-conversation," the subject acknowledging his inner voices as his own; and that "hearing voices" (auditory hallucinations, one cardinal "symptom" of Schizophrenia) are self-conversations that the subject disowns, attributing his inner voices to other "speakers" such as God, the FBI, etc. Tenacious in this central criticism of schizophrenia since his Myth of Mental Illness was published in 1961, Dr. Szasz speculates that "...never before in history have so many educated people wasted so much time and money as have diverse professionals squandered on studying this nonexistent illness." The Meaning of Mind is an easy but scholarly read, alive with quotes. Dr. Szasz leads us through six chapters: Thought: Self-Conversation Responsibility: Self-blame and Self-Praise Memory: Fabricating the Past and the Future Brain: The Abuse of Neuroscience Mind: The History of an Idea Modernity's Master Metaphors: Mental Illness and Mental Treatment Here's a work of philosophy, true love of logic, with relevance for daily life. It will open your mind - metaphorically, of course.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this bookl! 21 Jun 2004
By Sheldon Richman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an important book for anyone interested in such big issues as free will, neuroscience, morality, and the meaning of personhood. If you've wondered how Thomas Szasz can possibly believe that mental illness is a myth, here is the most basic answer. The idea of mental illness depends on a particular notion of "mind," and if that notion is mistaken, then the concepts dependent on it are likely mistaken also. Read it and see. Wonderfully written, informative, and thought-provoking.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A persuasive, challenging, succinctly written account 8 Dec 2002
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
The Meaning Of Mind: Language, Morality, And Neuroscience by Thomas Szasz (Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, State University of New York Health Science Center, Syracuse) is an articulate, highly accessible, and persuasive treatise that calls into question the trend of analyzing the mind as if it were nothing more than a collection of brain functions. Taking the viewpoint that people should be understood and judged as moral individuals with free will, and not as mindless slaves to the workings of brain chemistry, The Meaning Of Mind is a persuasive, challenging, succinctly written account that can be confidently recommended to students of Human Psychology.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars improve your understanding 29 Jan 2013
By lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
brilliant tool for understanding self. Recommended for those who are self aware and insightful.
Will move you on from repetitive thinking.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lead us not into temptation. 1 Nov 2009
By New Age of Barbarism - Published on Amazon.com
_The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience_ (1996) by anti-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz provides for a fascinating reading in terms of the philosophy of mind. The book contains much wisdom from psychology including the nature of mind, self, and responsibility. Szasz shows how the traditional pre-modern and medieval concept of the soul and the person came to be replaced by a mind/body dualism in Descartes. In modern times, scientific materialism (what Szasz calls "scientism") has effectively become the prevailing viewpoint and maintains that mind is synonymous with brain. The book argues that the notion of language is fundamentally linked up with the idea of mind.

Szasz who is perhaps most famous for his remark that "If you talk to God you are praying, but if God talks to you then you are schizophrenic", spends much of this book attacking the psychiatric establishment for de-humanizing people (much of this is probably deserved). Szasz shows how neuroscience also effectively de-humanizes. One example of this is the case of H.M., who through a procedure performed on him lost his memory. Not only did this procedure permanently ruin a human life, but to add insult to injury he was used as a case study by the neuroscientific establishment, further de-humanizing him. An interesting experiment was performed, in which individuals feigned mental illness and were placed in an institution even after admitting that they were part of an experiment. Such studies are highly disturbing and show that there is far more to understand of the human mind than we currently know.

Szasz also delves into the subject of religion. He shows how the notion of the devil and temptation arose. Szasz provides an analysis of the notion of the scapegoat, showing how those with "deviant thoughts" came to be scapegoated by society. In fact, in the Soviet Union dissenters against the state were frequently placed into mental institutions. A similar thing might be occurring in the capitalist West. Szasz shows how outbreaks of irrationality are ubiquitous to the human condition. In fact, contrary to what is commonly believed Szasz maintains that one can effectively be blamed for anything. Szasz also argues that the only solution to society's moral problems is a "final solution" and thus that such problems must be dealt with by the individual rather than a totalistic state. He also considers instances of "false memory". He shows that it is far too easy to see exactly what we want to see. But, then he too readily blames the victims of such delusions. Ultimately, human reason can only take us so far, and it is far too easy to fall prey to irrationality.

Szasz does show how the psychiatric establishment and its "siamese twin" the criminal justice establishment have effectively reduced modern man to an "infantilistic" state. Szasz considers hallucinations and delusions. He argues that the schizophrenic effectively "hears his own thoughts" and passes off responsibility to them to a "voice". But, epileptics often "hear voices" too. Would Szasz argue that the epileptic does not have a legitimate brain disorder? Probably (nearly) all people have experience of altered states of consciousness during dreams. And we know from personal experience or from observation of others that alcohol and dugs can produce similar effects. Why then does Szasz have so much trouble believing that they do not also exist for the schizophrenic? The schizophrenic fundamentally suffers from an inability to communicate, but so do many individuals who have suffered from stroke. Why does Szasz maintain that one is merely "talking crazy" but the other is a legitimate brain problem.

This book provides a good argument to show that scientism de-humanizes. But, Szasz is far too quick to blame the entire psychiatric establishment and effectively throws the baby out with the bath-water. In the end, he denounces too many people, and then ends up falling for a dumb ideology himself - Scientology of L. Ron Hubbard. Just further proof that it is often those who most boldly proclaim their "rationality" who fall for the dumbest ideologies - Marxism, Scientology, etc. etc.
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