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Sanity or Insanity? A brief account of the Legal and Medical Views of Insanity, and some practical difficulties

  • George M. Robertson (a1)
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The term “insanity” conveys to the minds of lawyers and physicians two different meanings, based on two divergent methods of testing its presence, and a clear recognition of this fact would go far to prevent many misunderstandings which arise solely from the logical error of equivocation. The term insanity as used by each should of course be accurately defined, and the difference of meaning thereby made plain; but this has not been done, for to prepare an accurate and satisfactory definition of insanity appears to surpass the wit of man. Even had it been done in a theoretically perfect manner it would probably be of little or no value, for, like Mr. Herbert Spencer's definition of life, it would of necessity be so abstract as to give no assistance in practice. For my purpose here it will be sufficient if I indicate the lines on which the legal and medical definitions of this term would run.

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E.g., Mr.Balfour, A. J.

As there is no rigid boundary between health and disease it is well to recognize at once that it is impossible to define insanity from the medical point of view with absolute accuracy.

Slight and transient departures being seldom regarded as insanity necessitate the insertion of these vague qualifications.

The following example is one of insanity from the pathological and strictly medical point of view, which is not recognized as such by the law. This man, for two years, we read, “durst not ever eat an apple for fear it should make him drunk; but as he took care to assign no reason for his forbearance, and as no man is much solicited to eat apples, the oddity escaped notice, and would not have been known at this hour” had he not confessed after he had recovered his senses to perfection, and told it as an instance of concealed insanity (“British Synonymy,” by Piozzi, H. L. London, 1794. Vol. 2., p. 3).

E.g., Mr.Balfour, A. J.

As there is no rigid boundary between health and disease it is well to recognise at once that it is impossible to define insanity from the medical point of view with absolute accuracy.

* Read at a meeting of the Scotch Division of the Association at Glasgow, March 14th, 1895.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Sanity or Insanity? A brief account of the Legal and Medical Views of Insanity, and some practical difficulties

  • George M. Robertson (a1)
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