Moral psychopathology and mental health: Modern and ancient.

Youval Rotman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Following three turning points in the historical development of psychology this study examines how the relation between mental health and the state of illness is linked to the concept of “passions.” The first was the birth of modern psychiatry in 18th century France. The second was the development of the field of inquiry in antiquity about the psuchē and its mental activities, and the third was the turn of early Christian thought about mind and soul. A comparison between early modern and ancient concepts of “the passions” reveals the moral and ethical aspects of the concept “mental health,” and shows that more than for any other kind of illness, the history of mental illness and mental health is embedded within a moralistic philosophical perspective. Pathology as a field of study of “the passions,” whatever their definition was, enabled thinkers to refer to mental illness and health in moral terms. Although “passions” meant different things to different authors in different times, it was used by all as means to link between inner mental activities and the way the body react to the outside world. We can see it as an obligatory element to conceptualize illness, disorder, and health in regards to mental activities. Pagan ancient authors as well as early Christian authors used it to construct new theories and praxes about mental health, while early modern psychiatrists used it to develop corporeal methods of cure. In all currents of thought the concept of “passions” and the definition of the ways in which they affected the mind were used to distinguish mental illness and mental health from any other type of illness and health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-33
Number of pages12
JournalHistory of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Christian psychology
  • mental illness-history
  • moral psychology
  • passions
  • psychopathology


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