Transphenomenological Perspectives in Psychopathology

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Phenomenology, created by Husserl in the late nineteenth century, represented an intel­lectual revolution, particularly in continental Europe. The novelty of this way of thinking originated the possibility of overcoming substantialism, but also to fall in some aporias. First in Husserl was his difficulty to escape from subjectivism of the phenomenon into the consciousness and its representations. Heidegger overcame all subjectivism and did away with the dualisms of gnoseology, with his “being-there”, in-the-world. But he did that by the loss of real­ity, the loss of the self identity, and the loss of the corporeality of existence, the absence of flesh in the life.

Merleau-Ponty (and French phenomenology) overcame this last aporia, through the phenomenology of corporeality. Levinas was the first to point to the unac­ceptable disappearance of the existent in human existence, developing the concept of identity us being an emergent experience coming out of the encounter with the alterity of the other. Later, through XX siècle, the General Systematic Theory developed the emergent’s vision of the identity of the structures, including the human one. And this Theory, applied at the Epistemology of the Cognitive Process developed the new Critical Realism Constructivist, necessary to understand the psychopathological process of de-realization.

And this vision applied to the process of human personalization, by Xavier Zubiri, make possible to understand the human individual “Becoming” a personal subject by the active appropriation of what is real. Both as regards reality embodied in the world and in our own corporeality, are what liberates us, among other things, from psychopathology.

Phenomenology, created by Husserl in the late nineteenth century, represented an intel­lectual revolution, particularly in continental Europe. Initially, it was a methodologi­cal renovation of philosophical knowledge that generated a fresh vision and a new way of viewing philosophy which was to permeate philosophical thought right through­out the twentieth century. Its influences extended to all the human science areas, from anthropology to psychology, and infused other science areas such as history, sociolo­gy and epistemology. It had an enormous impact on psychopathology from the nine­teen tens, with the transcendental work of Jaspers, right up to the nineteen fifties, when the neo-positivism and logical positivism of the Vienna circle directed psychopathol­ogy along the path of descriptive objectivism, which is where it largely finds itself today. An excellent exposition of the phenomenological current in psychopathology may be found in Herbert Spiegelberg’s work.

However, the influence of neo-positivism and other epistemological conditioning factors is not solely to blame for the progressive decline in this way of viewing psy­chopathology, a decline which was also the result of those built-in deficiencies which were its bedfellows in its first 50 years of life.

In the first place, the novelty of this way of thinking, together with a certain degree of expository density —due to its theoretical immaturity in this field— made it difficult to grasp and thus, led to its being rejected by canonical psychopathology, extraordi­narily conditioned by objectualist medical thinking, founded on positivist and essen­tialist biology. This term, both complex and of great importance for the present progress of psychopathology, is dealt with in great depth and intellectual rigour by Pablo Ramos in his book, which points with extraordinary clarity to a highly promising transphe­nomenological future.

In the second place, the difficulties of phenomenology in psychopathology arose from its own initial deficiencies, which originated some aporias as regards the use of psy­chopathology in psychiatric clinical practice, thus turning its contributions, in the view of many professionals, into a kind of subtle verse form.

Overcoming those aporias in phenomenology offers a wide ranging panorama for psy­chopathology thanks to transphenomenological philosophy which has gradually emerged right throughout the second half of the twentieth century, in correlation with the evo­lution that biology and other positive sciences have had on the way to overcoming substantialism.  In this way Zubiry, a very advanced disciple of Heiddeger, spotted out the philosophical and anthropological deficiencies coming from both the Husserlian phenomenology of consciousness and the Heideggerian hermeneutical phenomenology. Zubiri has gone beyond the substantivation of consciousness by developing a new form of understanding human intelligence. He has also gone beyond the pure hermeneutical presence of being (meaning and sense) by emphasizing the transcendent character of reality, which is actualized as the transcendental real character of everything when it appears in an intelligent act. This Zubirian approach to both human existence and metaphisics permits us to take into account the emergence of the human subject related to a non-substantialistic ontology.

Let us not forget that one of the great merits of phenomenology has in fact been its capacity to place the entire field of anthropology on that route towards overcoming substantialism, the principal foe against which all sciences and twentieth century epis­temology have fought (see Bachelard and Morin). From an essentialist view of ontol­ogy, which perceives objects “in themselves” and thus isolated, whose ulterior relation has a causal determinant nature, it is impossible to understand the electron in its field, a living organism in its ecological niche and, still less, the human being and his world. Simply from a communicational viewpoint, made up of interdependent correlated rela­tionships, which constitute systems out of which differentiated local structures emerge, all reality can be understood today. We are dealing with an epistemology and an ontol­ogy of processes (Whitehead), dynamics (Zubiri) and systems (Bertalanfy), which self-­organise matter (Prigogine), what is alive (Maturana), the person (Zubiri) and socie­ty (Luhmann).

This anti-substantialistic saga, which phenomenology inaugurates in anthropology and in psychopathology, is what we wish to stress, although this paper is solely going to deal with its fundamental points and lay emphasis on its contributions and deficien­cies (aporias), which will lead us to deal with present day incipient transphenomeno­logical achievements, especially from a Zubirian viewpoint.


The creator of contemporary phenomenology, Husserl, contributed the concept of intentionality to the vision of Man and to his cognitive capacity. This is a relational dialectic concept which perceives the subject and the object of consciousness as simul­taneously co-constituted due to the intentional mutual reference. Phenomenological intentionality is the respectivity between the nous (logos) and the noúmenos (what is present to the logos) and has nothing to do with the propositive intention of the sub­ject, whose objectives are not possible without prior positional or phenomenological intentionality. It is this, as a constituent interrelation of its poles, the subject and the object, that constitutes the phenomenon of consciousness. A facet of this phenome­non of consciousness would be the existential experience, as it was conceptualized by Husserl in his first stage and as it was introduced by Jaspers in his General Psychopathology as a pillar of his descriptive phenomenology.

The second important contribution made by Husserl to anthropology was his concept of the world of life, as the field given to Man, where he has always been placed and conditioned by what appears to be natural and habitual objects, which he experi­ences as already constituted indisputable realities. This criterion was also introduced by Jaspers into his General Psychopathology as contents of given reality. Husserl insist­ed on the concept of naturalization with which this world of life is perceived and on the necessity to question this naturalist vision regarding what we are facing, putting it into brackets (epojé), in order to be able to explore the essential truth in phenome­na. Jaspers expressly discarded that moment of eidetic phenomenological exploration in his General Psychopathology, and he did not really introduce the constitutive rela­tional vision of the existential experiences of Husserlian intentionality. Hence, his General Psychopathology cannot truly be viewed as phenomenological.

Aporias in Husserl: the fundamental doubt underlying the philosophy of Husserl’s first stage, that which had a direct influence on psychopathology, was his difficulty to escape from subjectivism which he had inherited from Descartes, with the result that his con­cept of phenomenon was trapped within consciousness and its representations. A cer­tain substantialism of consciousness still lingers, as an entity in itself, with his tran­scendental Self, which would have an hyletic (sensorial) relationship with exterior reality, which beyond consciousness would also have its substantial “in itself”, inac­cessible to Man.

Heidegger, a famous follower of Husserl, brought his master’s intuition to its maxi­mum point and explicitly overcame the substantialism of consciousness and its tran­scendental Self and the substantialism of the object in itself. Thus, he overcame all subjectivism and did away with the dualisms of gnoseology (self/non self —con-sciousness/exterior reality—, etc.) and the aporias of a psychology of representations “in” consciousness. In fact, for Heidegger the human being is a “being-there” who is-already-in-the-world, a place in which he is alredy in union with things and in which he is feeling. These things of the world are not objects in front of him nor are they representations of his consciousness, but rather they are presences or presentations in the opening to the world which he himself is. Things which appear in this opening are “utensils to …” carry out an action in the world, and he himself is no more than the opening to the world. “Utensil” and “being there” are no more than polar moments in a single relational system, “existence”, as a field which opens the presence of the sense of everything that appears. For Heidegger, existence (human life) is a “structure of sense” which has to be unveiled in order to be able to comprehend what that exis­tence is. That is the work of hermeneutic phenomenology, that which he him­self inaugurated.

This philosophy of Heidegger of “being and time” constituted the stimulus and the source of that great wealth of contributions to psychopathology which led, in the thir­ties and forties, to “anthropological phenomenological psychiatry” (Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, Erwin Straus, Freiherr von Gebsattel, etc.).

The contributions of these authors to psychopathology, although budding —in my view— were magnificent: for there lies the concept advanced by Binswanger of “encounter”; the exquisite differential distinction of “intentional modes” corresponding to each sensory carried out by Straus; Tellenbach’s understanding of the problem of “endo­geneity” in melancholy as an objective-subjective correlation, in relation to hyper­nomia and its possible pathological transformation. However, what is particularly striking are the descriptions of “the pathological worlds” inhabited by some mental patients, descriptions which were carried out by Binswanger, Boss or von Gebsattel. Those descriptions are not a mere enumeration of objective symptoms, but rather com­prehensive presentations of structured totalities ranging from all the symptoms in a systematic unit of sense, from which different symptoms emerge, whose existence can­not be understood outside that world. Paradigmatically, we have the magnificent pres­entation of the “world of the obsessive” undertaken by Gebsattel, that “pseudo-­magic” world outside the peculiar shape of which it would be impossible for the obsessive individual to feel what he feels.

The key contribution made by Heidegger to twentieth century western philosophy would precisely lie in the hermeneutic understanding of human existence, understood as a structure of sense, in the sense of being-there-in-the-world, which constitutes humour or mood.

Aporias in Heidegger: with regard to the anthropological sciences, it is worth remem­bering that Heidegger carried out fundamental ontology and not psychology or anthro­pology. The application of his philosophy to those sciences was at the root of three basic aporias: in the first place, the loss of the existent, the disappearance of the “selfness” identity which is the owner of existence; in the second place, the loss of real­ity, as everything would be “sense” in existence; finally, the loss of the corporeality of existence, the absence of flesh in the existent. This final aporia may be involved in the second, from the perspective of the loss of reality as a lack of presence in the actual materiality of the reality of the world and in the biological reality of being-there in Heideggerian existence.


Absence of corporeality. Corporeality, as a way of being in the world, was magnifi­cently studied and expounded by Merleau-Ponty, in his well-known works The Structure of Behaviour and Phenomenology of Perception. It is impossible to reasonably under­stand psychopathology and part of the neurological symptoms without having recourse to the entire Merleau-Ponty conceptualisation of embodied intentionality transcend­ing the world, and without accepting his concept of the living body as a hinge that articulates biological causality with the motivation of teleological sense in behav­iour.

Merleau-Ponty in turn has left his own aporias: the most important, perhaps, that of the genealogy of structures, as has happened with all structuralism. Within this over­sight, the lack of a criticism of knowledge emerges, which is conditioned by determi­nations themselves (historical, paradigmatic, operational, formal discourse syntax, etc.), as Foucault, Habermas and the entire “constructivist” school of epistemology have pointed out. (To see this last point in a “relative constructivist” approach, with­in an emerging or “progressive realism”, see Realismo científico by A. Diéguez Lucena. [A magnificent summary in his epilogue, pp. 231 passim]).

In the theories of Merleau-Ponty, the subject of behaviour is watered down in the struc­ture of behaviour itself, with the result that it is difficult for psychopathology to address phenomena of “estrangement”, “depersonalisation” and, lastly, the phenomenon of alienation, of “expropriation”, that all psychopathological phenomenon involves. In Merleau-Ponty’s line there is another wonderful French phenomenologist of the “flesh”, Michel Henry, who has gone beyond the understanding of Merleau-Ponty, overcoming some aporias in his theory.

It is important to stress the scant contributions to psychopathology from the enor­mous scientific wealth gushing from the springs of the phenomenology of the “flesh” (la chair) advanced by Merleau-Ponty. Here, we should like to point to, within Spanish­speaking psychiatry, López-Ibor’s well-known contributions to the general topic of the body and corporeality and thymic pathology, such as vertigo, etc., and those of Otto Dörr, who was the very first to differentiate bulimia from anorexia.


Disappearance of the subject. Although Levinas was the first to point to the unac­ceptable disappearance of the existent in human existence described by Heidegger, it is well known that the tendency to eliminate the subject within philosophy and anthro­pology was successful right up to the seventies. This was not only an effect of logical neo-positivism, but also an effect of the so-called philosophy of suspicion and of the contextualism and of the sociology of knowledge pushed to its absolute limit. A curi­ous and —in my view— extravagant result of these intellectual stances, mixed with an extreme brand of genetic essentialism, has been socio-biology, which upholds the view that (selfish) genes use the organism and its behaviour in order to survive. Here lies a meta-theoretical animism which concedes propositive intentionality to the gene, thus taking it away from the living unit.

It is important to state that the organism as a whole, the body as a real wholeness which gives sense to its parts or elements, has tended to disappear in both biology and med­icine throughout the second half of the twentieth century. This is very serious when it comes to psychopathology as it generates the tendency to see behaviour as the prod­uct of the genes and not as a correlation of the individual as part of his milieu, of a unitary corporal individual in any action. Nobody plays tennis by simply unleashing a stroke with the arm against the ball. The player plays with all his body, and sets up his stroke in relation to the ball, situated within the dynamic configuration of the entire court, with the aim of placing it in that part of the court which he chooses and organises with his teleological intention. What obviously appears is an active subject, situated in an overall context as a unitary body, that he himself sets in motion with a teleologic intention that he must achieve, and which organises the concrete behav­ioural movement as an organising correlation of the situation and of corporeality itself.

Faced with that loss of the identity unit of the organism, produced by substantialistic elementalism, a very important holistic approach is powerfully developed namely the general theory of systems. As regards biology, we should like to highlight the work of Maturana, who presents the organism as an autopoietic being, a self-builder of its own identity unity, differentiated from its milieu. Within this context, the biological indi­vidual with his own identity is a resultant of the self-building process itself, by means of the incorporating and differentiating communicational relationship with the milieu.

We have also noticed in the cognitive order that the subject is not a “prius”, is not a precedent of interaction, as Kant’s idealist anthropology and Neo-kantian philosoph­ical theory of the turn of the century postulated, which was operative in Jaspers when he constructed his General Psychopathology. From the “genetic epistemology of Piaget” right up to the constructivism of Niiniluoto, the subject and the object are viewed as emergent from the praxic interrelation. It is also thus viewed by such different authors as the aforementioned Maturana, by Hacking or by Castoriadis.

This new way of understanding the subject as a differentiation between himself and the things, which emerged from an operative genealogy, enables us today to rescue the sub­ject from life and from behaviour, at the same time as the subjectivism of the a priori tran­scendental Self is eliminated. Both Foucault and Habermas fol­lowed this approach in their research work.

This rescue of the subject is very important for psychopathology, as… if there were not a subject… who consults? Would it be the illness, as in that case there would be no consultant? And if there were no subject owner of life itself… why consult someone suffering from anguish or panic attacks, frightened at the prospect of “losing control of his own behaviour”? The subject of one's own life is essential in order to understand psy­chopathology as it is presented and as it is lived in the real and everyday lives of per­sons and not in the abstract ideal world of nosologic entities. We shall see this in greater detail later, but for the moment let us continue with the recovery of the subject.

At a sociological level, the work of Niklas Luhmann, within the saga of the general theory of systems, introduces the individual as a differentiation within the social sys­tem and the person as a self-identifying force versus society. The person is also viewed today as someone who differentiates himself vis-à-vis society according to the great French thinker and sociologist Alain Touraine, a stout defender decades ago of the concept of the “social actor” for the individual.

 At a philosophical level, Levinas has developed his conception of the person as an encounter with the other and as a being from the other, from the radical alterity of the oth­er. Paul Ricoeur has carried out an in-depth analysis of personal self-differentiation, the “sameness”, from the mere “identity” of the individual. Perhaps, it has been Xavier Zubiri who has most clearly expounded the topic of the emergence of the subject within human life, from the minimal degree of the “me” (this affects me), a constituent factor of experience lived only as existential experience, right up to the emergence of the “Self” (I do this), passing through the intermediate degree of the “my” (this is my house). Beyond the individual Self, Zubiri has described the emer­gence of the “I myself” or the personal Self, through free and autonomous appropri­ation of life itself. This philosophy enables us to appreciate the emergence of the psychic field with its existential experiences and the different levels of the emergence of the psychic subject (me-my-I), emerging from the biological strata. At the same time, it enables us to differentiate the impersonal existential experience from personal expe­rience, through which the individual is transformed into a person, leading to the emergence of the I myself who fulfils his own life. (A succinct exposition of this, focusing on the differentiation between existential experience and experience, of fundamental importance for psychopathology, can be found in my article published in 2002). Let us now take a look at the third of those aporia which has yet to be over­come left by hermeneutic phenomenology.

Loss of reality. Let us begin by saying that the “hermeneutic turn” given by Heidegger to the philosophy of human existence cannot be overlooked today, neither in philos­ophy nor in anthropology. Everything that appears explicitly in human life appears signifying and/or with sense. The two great philosophical approaches of the twenti­eth century, continental “phenomenology” and British “analytical philosophy”, coin­cide in this. The problem lies in the fact that both the former and the latter tend to present the meaning or the sense as fields which exclude from any other dimension, particularly from the dimension of the real. Reality would be no more than an intra­discursive designation for analytical philosophy. All this brought Lacan to his mere­ly discursive considerations regarding the discourse of the patient, not about his real life. In Spain, this prompted Castilla del Pino to carry out his linguistic analyses of the illocutionary acts of the patient, carried out on his mental representations within his consciousness, as “we do not know what reality is, as we operate with an image of it and not with it directly” (Introducción a la psiquiatría T.1 - p. 186). If this were the case, how could we distinguish a false image from a true one, especially in order to distinguish an actual perception of a real thing from its image actualized in our fantasy?

On the other hand, we do not wish to say that things have or have not sense in hermeneutic philosophy and anthropology, but rather that what appears and counts in human existence is pure sense (hammer: “to hammer”; boots: “to walk”, etc.). In this perspective, real dimensions (e.g. physical dimensions) would not exist that would sustain the sense of utensils. However, this is not true; a hammer may only really ham­mer if it is in mouvement having certain dimensions, a certain mass, a certain weight and certain consis­tence. The sense of things is sustained by real dimensions that have their own consis­tence beyond their presence and use by human beings. Those are the dimensions belonging to things which enable human actions to be carried out. This issue makes us able to stress a new realism beyond the old ingenuous ralism, developing a “realism from realisation”. [See Echeverría in Spanish and Haking in English].

 Another thing is that things may be viewed by Man according to their meaning and may be integrat­ed into life for their sense in carrying out a certain task. The structure of existence can­not be understood without a hermeneutic approach which enables its sense or its count-er-sense or its lack of sense to be understood as is the case in psychopathology. However, the accomplishment of life is not possible in the mere field of discourse or only in the dimension of the sense of things.

The exclusion of the real in the hearth of hermeneutics determines that the psy­chopathological writings of Binswanger and Boss, despite their clarity and comprehensive depth, do not enable us to differentiate a delusion from a dogmatic belief and even a real perception from a hallucination. In all cases, there is a structure of sense which is fully consistent with the structure of senses of each existence and of the world in which it occurs. The destructive side of psychopathology is not its counter-sense for life, but rather the impediment to accomplish life and the de-accomplishment of the per­son himself. Even within phenomena, the topic of reality and its structure, beyond con­sciousness, of the lived experience of the sense of existence, is unavoidable in psy­chopathology. We shall have to explain how the “lived experience of de-realisation” is possible and also how it is possible that everything present in psychopathological phenomena possesses the characteristic of originating the sentiment and sensation of being realities, as if the opposite were the case, they would not affect the patient. The phobic experiences a threat as if it were real, even when he rationally knows that the object is inoffensive, for instance, a sparrow or a butterfly.

The issue of reality has been increasingly present in transphenomenological philoso­phy over the last thirty years (see, for instance, Deutsch). Perhaps the philosophical approach put forward by Zubiri is that which since the fifties has introduced the issue of reality into the very kernel of philosophy and anthropology. For this author, Man is an “animal of realities”. The Man/milieu relationship, accomplished by means of the “intelligent sensitivity” of the human being, would consist of actualising reality as such, that is to say, as being itself “in its own right”, from and by itself. In reality this is a co-actualisation: on the one hand, what appears to Man as something real is presented because of its own properties. On the other hand, the human being presents himself as some­one in the strictest sense of the word, as being really the Self, that is a subject itself, distinguished from the other far removed reality.

This conceptualisation of human sensitive intelligence, as Zubiri has put it, has numer­ous implications in psychopathology. Zubiri, a dissident follower of Heidegger, is the thinker who has probably gone furthest towards overcoming the phenomenolog­ical education he received.

(Nowadays, there are academic seminars on Zubirian philosophy held in universities all over the world and in addition there are three foundations dedicated exclusively to his philo­sophical thought in three different countries: Spain <<>>; USA <<>> and Chile [at present under construction].)

Co-actualisation presents everything to the human being as being “something” by itself, which gives formal character of being “real” to the presence of everything which has been actualised by sentient intelligence. Hence, everything present in human expe­rience upholds the formality of being real, even when we say about a photograph that “that is truly an image of such and such reality”. It is an image, it belongs to the imag­inary world, but it is an image because of its own characteristics, by itself, “of itself”; thus we regard it as a real image. Hence, it is better to say that it is an image of real­ity, that is to say in Zubiri’s words, it is “a pictorial reality”. It upholds the formal character of reality, although its content may not be so, at least not fully. In psy­chopathology, an image of memory or of prevision, etc., really affects the subject of the lived experience due to this formal character of everything being real which has been actualised. If the subject felt that the object of its lived experience is totally unre­al, it would not feel affected… and psychopathology would not exist. Another thing is that within psychopathology (and also outside it) the human being confers talita­tive reality on the specific contents of the imaginary, when in reality the contents of something real which has been pictorially presented are de-realised variations of the possibilities of what is real, the result of creative human fantasy.

In this vision the clear difference between form and content is rescued from Kantianism, a difference successfully employed by Jaspers in psychopathology, but devoid of the idealist and subjectivist burden inherent in this perspective.

On the other hand, the co-actualisation of human intelligent sensitivity presents and under­lines the human being himself as being “someone” by himself. This makes the human being appear, in his relationship with the world as a real person, as being really a per­son. The human being feels himself and experiences his life as his own. Not only does he experience his identity sameness, but he feels it to be his own, as belonging to him. Only from that feeling of self-property are the “existential experience of estrangement” and the “feeling of depersonalisation” possible.

Reality has the formal character of being what it is due principally to its own self-con-stituent dynamics, in its differential relationship vis-à-vis the milieu. This property of reality is what becomes gradually clear to human intelligence. At the same time, self reality is self manifested as being really mine and as being really I: Myself, the per­son I am as owner of what happens to me, what I experience and what I do. Without this real property of my being and of my life I could experience neither panic at my alienation present within “anguish”, nor alienation of what is mine in “dysmorpho­phobia” or in “symptoms of conversion”, nor the formal alienation of my thoughts and acts in “schizophrenia”.

Being the master of oneself is what constitutes the human individual as a person and the appropriation of what is his constitutes the personal world, at the same time as it personalises life. This enables us to begin to understand illness as “expropriation” or “alienation” of what is one’s own. “We experiment […] health […] as what is temperedly appropriate”, states Gadamer, and a little later on he states that: “Disease is self-objectifying, health is not”.

That self-objectifycation, that act of putting something belonging to oneself out of one­self, transforming it into something which is removed (Entäusserung in German) is what constitutes the psychopathological process and produces the psychological symptom, as being something personal perceived outside the personal private self. From that per­spective, psychopathology appears as a personal “de-appropriation” in which the per­son subject, instead of appropriating his own life, alienates what is his, what belongs to him, converting it into something strange and foreign (Entfremdung in German). Psychopathology would be the alienating process of the personal subject, and the objec­tive symptoms would be what has been alienated by the subject, transformed into objects which impede him being himself and which destroy his personal life.

In an “object phobia” the subject does not appropriate the object (scissors, the ring of a stove, etc.), nor does it appropriate its active power, incorporating it within its own life space; on the contrary, the phobic feels himself to be prey to the threat of the object and within the aggression space of the object, which is the active element in the phobic relationship (see Pelegrina). In the case of “catatonia”, we see an individual who does not structure his space of action from his own propositive intentionality as subject, suffering like an automate the action of the structure which his milieu impos­es on him, as Erwin Straus has shown, or remaining rigidly trapped in a de-structured spacious field, without a real-active structure as an expression, transit or stay space (Pelegrina 1984).

In the few short pages I have at my disposal, it is not even possible to schematically explain the psychopathological de-appropriation and the symptomatic objectualisa­tion that the psychiatric clinic offers in this transphenomenological perspective of the alienating de-appropriation of personal life. In my book (which is at present being published) Anthropological basis of psychopathology the possibilities that present day anthropology offer towards understanding both psychopathology and symptoms as personal self-alienation can be seen.

The disappearance of alienation as an essential element of psychopathology consti­tutes the aporia which includes all twentieth century psychopathology, and is the result of all those aporias which have been inherited from phenomenology and from other strands of thought which have made contributions to it right throughout the centu­ry. In fact, both the term and the concept “alienation” disappeared from the field of psychiatry in that century, in contrast to its frequent, although ingenuous use, in the nineteenth century.

The historical disappearance of this concept is due to several reasons. I am only going to mention a few briefly: in the first place, alienation was viewed as a problem of the individual (not of the person), the product of the effect on him of the social structure to which the individual belonged. This was the Marxist vision of this issue, which sit­uated alienation in the socio-political field as social and not personal alienation, a the­sis which Foucault himself expressly accepted in his book Mental illness and person­ality. As opposed to this option, I stoutly defend the opposite point of view: personal alienation is only possible, and only the loss of one’s own property is alienation. Expropriation of what is one’s own by someone else would be robbery, but not alien­ation.

The second reason for the absence of the idea of alienation is the absence of the con­cept of “appropriation”, its antonym, as a normative concept in health. Twentieth cen­tury philosophical, anthropological and psychopathological thought does not possess the concept of appropriation. Only from the perspective of viewing life and health as a self-constructive incorporation is it possible to perceive illness as expropriation. Let us remember that the autopoietic vision of the organism is a late twentieth cen­tury vision (Maturana; Jonas).


In psychopathology, the concept of appropriation is practically non-existent and, when it does appear, it does so as a non-developed intuition, as is the case of Minkowski (see May et al.), or the case of von Gebsattel, who wondered, in his work Medical Anthropology (p. 429), whether “the process of independence of the biological and psychic functional systems versus the personal whole does not involve, in its becom­ing personal, a disorder? Perhaps, the principal disorder of neurosis?” He later states (p. 425) that the “duty of therapy [… is] to set appropriation in motion”. These intuitions were not developed perhaps as they did not have at their disposal the anthro­pological category of personal appropriation. Nevertheless, over the last twenty-five years, within the philosophy of science and within anthropological sciences, the con­cept of appropriation as a “foundation stone for one’s identity” (Jonas) has emerged; as a foundation stone of “oneself” versus “I who act spontaneously”, oneself, that “has to be gathered from facts […] and convert it into himself, [which] is possible if the individual critically appropriates his own biography” (Habermas); it emerges as a fundamental task of Man: “appropriate the world [… and] appropriate oneself” (Gehlen); given the basic human condition of the “original body-earth co-appropriation [… that] makes us into the owners of the world […] due to the corporal condi­tion of being […] an appropriated body” (Michel Henry).

The fundamental condition for the human being to become the owner of himself lies precisely in the process of emergence of the person from the social individual. The latter has undoubtedly an identity, but it is an identity of belonging to the social group to which he is part of and which confers on him his individual identity. The emer­gent process of the person, as it was clearly seen by Zubiri in the 60’s, lies in that of self-appropriation, which confers freedom on the person to be himself and which is a “self-belonging” quality. Indeed it is the process of appropriation of dimensions in the common world -socially received- which leads the person to have an appropriated personal world for himself and by himself.

From the work of Zubiri, we can see a Person not only as being a reality “in its own”, like every other reality, but being too a self-owned reality by re-appropriation. That constitutes the  Zubirian concept of “suidad” (one being expressly the owner of oneself), which is very near to Ricoeur’s concept of “ipseity”. Zubiri’s concept of re-appropriation does not take place in the narrativeness level of life like Ricoeur’s, but is actually a real process of re-appropiation of the facticity of one self in the realm of the direct experience of facticity.

It is from this personal condition of re-appropriation of what was already in one as an individual, to become “oneself” as a person, from which the alienation of the Self, of the Oneself, can be grasped. Indeed, it is from the process of appropriation of the real world in order to have a “personal world”, with which to live one’s life, from where the alienation of the “my”, of mine, can be understood.

In the alienation of the Self I lose the “power” to be free, I lose personal freedom and autonomy. In the alienation of what is personal, of mine, I lose active power of that part of the real which I do not appropriate. This last point constitutes the deep root of the lived experience of impotence which we so often find in psychopatholo­gy, as the active power of life is a power of reality, which we take possession of when we seize it. If the person does not personally appropriate what is real, he does not take possession of his power and suffers the inability to accomplish his own life. Without the power of fire, we are unable to cook, warm ourselves, move quickly overland or by air, and we are even unable to light a cigarette. Within the aforementioned psy­chopathological examples, this is exactly what happens to the phobic, who is unable to take possession of the power of objects and/or phobic situations. The destructive power of “agoraphobia” lies in the inability of the patient to take possession of space as a personal world in which he can reside and through which he can move.

The understanding of psychopathological alienations depends on the understanding of real life as a personal appropriation. In turn, life as an appropriation can be grasped if we understand “the person as an active owner subject of himself and of his life, who constructs himself by taking possession of the power of what is real, to which we are always inevitably re-linked”, as Zubiri has exposed.

“Becoming” a personal subject by the active appropriation of what is real, both as regards reality embodied in the world and in our own corporeality, is what liberates us, among other things, from psychopathology.

In order to be able to see the human person and his life in this self-appropriating way and thus understand his alienations, it was necessary to overcome the aporias of earlier anthropologies: first, aporias related to substantialism, later those having to do with subjectivism, and its transcendental consciousness, much later those connected with elementalist biologism and, finally, those aporias belonging to hermeneutic phenomenology with the elimination of all subject and of reality which transcends mere sense. In his philosophical and anthropological work, Zubiri has overcome all these aporias in a systematic and rigorous way, inspired in the evolution of the real sciences, about which he had an in-depth knowledge, hence my insistence in his pres­ent day importance.

The transphenomenological horizon is opening up as a stimulating invitation to stroll along its yet to be trodden paths. The perspectives for a renewed psychopathology are promising to say the least.


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