The Concept of Mental Illness (Disease)

  • Norman J. Finkel
Part of the Perspectives in Law & Psychology book series (PILP, volume 8)


The historical courtship and developing contention between the disciplines of law and psychology finally seems to have produced an understanding that “insanity” is a legal, not a psychiatric, concept. In the process of differentiating “insanity” from “mental illness,” a corollary has emerged and gained the status, in some quarters, of a self-evident truth: the corollary asserts that mental disease is a medical concept, and one that the medico-psychological expert is uniquely, if not solely, qualified to address. Some are no doubt content with this decoupling. After all, the error of the alienists—of conflating “the two quite distinct concepts” (Moore, 1984) of legal insanity and mental illness—has been undone, and now each discipline can deal with and decide matters that fall within its own special province. But like Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” proclamation, there are reasons to suspect that the forecasted era of detente is an error of naive optimism.


Mental Illness Personality Disorder Expert Witness Medical Concept Multiple Personality 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman J. Finkel
    • 1
  1. 1.Georgetown UniversityUSA

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