Presidential Address

Conceptual Ambiguity and Morality in Modern Psychiatry
  • Alan A. Stone


Last year in my response to the Presidential Address I rather presumptuously associated myself with the wisdom of the owl of Minerva—the owl that Hegel said only spreads its wings at dusk. From that lofty position I described a new era in psychiatry that I called pragmatic eclecticism, an era in which the four competing models in psychiatry had learned peaceful coexistence. These models—the biological, the psychodynamic, the behavioral, and the social—I suggested were held together by the medical model, which provided clinical coherence if not conceptual clarity. As I present the Presidential Address I must confess that the wings of the owl of Minerva were not fully extended last year. I recant nothing, but I now believe I glided too easily over that qualifying phrase about the absence of conceptual clarity. I intend today therefore to speak about the ambiguity of our eclectic medical model and my concern that having overcome the tyranny of narrow orthodoxy we are now in danger of retreating behind new walls. I shall touch briefly on subjects familiar to you all: racism, homosexuality, and the situation of women. I shall not attempt to deal in a deep way with the substance of these matters; rather, my intention is to examine how American psychiatry has grappled with them. These are all issues which have confronted us in our practice, challenged the moral assumptions that lie concealed in our theories, and confounded us with disputes and acrimony in our Association. It is as we attempt to deal with this kind of issue that the new walls are being built, and it is no accident that each invites psychiatry to take a stand on human values. Human values after all are a crucial link in the chain that binds the self to society. To take a stand on them reveals something about our own selves, our own relation to society, and our own vision of what it means to love and to work.


Presidential Address Conceptual Clarity Moral Courage Peaceful Coexistence Social Psychiatry 
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Copyright information

© American Psychiatric Association 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan A. Stone

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