Where Mental Health and Liberty Merge

August 20-22, 2021

Anna Chorniy
Anna Chorniy

Graduate students and faculty from across the humanities gathered in the DC area for the first IHS in-person discussion colloquium since the onset of COVID-19. The colloquium explored “Liberty, Responsibility, and Mental Health,” and featured discussion leader Anna Chorniy, Assistant Professor of Medical Social Sciences and a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

For the discussion, participants read a variety of material, including pieces that were written well before psychology or sociology existed as formal scientific disciplines, ranging through the 19th-century turn toward empirical thinking about the mind and health, and modern efforts at linking liberty, responsibility, and sound mental health from thinkers like Erving Goffman and Thomas Szasz.

Discussants read a bizarre yet important text from English businessman and champion of both animal rights and vegetarianism, Thomas Tryon, in which the author squarely links individual health and well-being to the responsibility one takes with one’s body. Next, participants read selections from philosopher William Godwin’s Thoughts on Man, in which Godwin places special emphasis on self-discovery, self-education, and self-respect as some of the key components in not only healthy individuals but also healthy (and free) societies.

Goffman and Szasz rounded out the bulk of other sessions, introducing more modern and post-modern perspectives on mental well-being in liberal or illiberal societies. Both authors challenged

deeply-held convictions within their respective disciplines and advocated intellectual and professional changes which would empower individuals to become healthier and happier rather than contain, restrain, or medicate them into quietude.

The final session of this series was kept reading-free and used for open discussion of the current mental health crisis exacerbated by the events of 2020 and 2021 and how Classical Liberal scholars concerned with health, wellness, and liberty can achieve all of their ends without sacrificing any of them.

Interested in our discussion colloquia or other IHS programs? We offer a variety of programming and funding opportunities for faculty and graduates. For more information, visit TheIHS.org.

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