Myths, realities, and the political world: the anthropology of insanity defense attitudes

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1996;24(1):5-26.


The author presents the case that society's efforts to understand the insanity defense and insanity-pleading defendants are doomed to intellectual, moral, and political gridlock unless we are willing to take a fresh look at the doctrine through a series of filters-empirical research, scientific discovery, moral philosophy, cognitive and moral psychology, and sociology-in an effort to confront the single most important (but rarely asked) question: why do we feel the way we do about "these people" (insanity pleaders)? He examines this question finally through a model of structural anthropology and concludes that until we come to grips with the extent to which ours is a "culture of punishment," we can make no headway in solving the insanity defense dilemma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics
  • Humans
  • Insanity Defense*
  • Jurisprudence
  • Philosophy
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Social Values*