Quote of the Day

August 13, 2008

At times, Szasz seems to make the stronger claim that since mental illnesses are metaphorical, empirical study of their biological basis is a category error: “Looking for the organic etiology of mental illness is like looking for the caloric content of food for thought.”

Bryan Caplan, The Economics of Szasz: Preferences, Constraints, and Mental Illness

The article is long and interesting. To what extent should economists, who believe that even people with extreme preferences are rational, be willing to accept that there are two kinds of people: sane and mentally ill? Is “mental illness” just a normative claim about how we think people should behave and what they should prefer?

This is definitely relevant to my old argument that some people genuinely prefer to smoke, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As I wrote back then, where is the line between “can’t” and “don’t want to”?


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