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Feinstein, H.M. (1971). Benjamin Rush: A Child of Light for the Children of Darkness. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(2):209-222.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(2):209-222

Benjamin Rush: A Child of Light for the Children of Darkness

Howard M. Feinstein, M.D.

All economic and psychological explanations of a doctrine are true, since the thinker never thinks from any starting point but the one constituted by what he is. Reflection even on a doctrine will be complete only if it succeeds in linking up with the doctrine's history and the extraneous explanations of it, and in putting back the causes and meaning of the doctrine in an existential structure.

M. Merleau-Ponty

Dr. Benjamin Rush, whose likeness is embosed on the official seal of the American Psychiatric Association, is considered the founder of American psychiatry. In addition to writing the first text book on mental disease published in this country, he is remembered as a member of the Second Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an active antislavery pamphleteer. The following discussion compares Rush's writings about the mentally ill with his writings about Negroes, in an effort to understand the evolution of his social thought in its psychological and historical context.

In writing medical history, there is a strong temptation to view the subject from the pinnacle of the present. Medical science is assumed to be in a state of perfection and the efforts of historical research are devoted to hinging together discoveries which make a neat, if somewhat winding, pathway to the summit. While the view from the top may be satisfying, it empties the past of the complexity of a series of present moments, and thus falsifies it.

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