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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 52 (2010) 9, 639 - 647


Normal or pathological? – The view of Georges Canguilhem (1904-1995)

B. Verhoeff


The distinction between normality and pathology is discussed on the basis of the views expressed in the work of the medical doctor and philosopher, Georges Canguilhem (1904-1995). Canguilhem shows that the distinction cannot be made at a biological or statistical level. In essence, pathology seems to be irreducibly qualitative. Personal suffering, dysfunction and limitations play a central role in pathology and are clearly linked to an inability to change and adapt in a flexible and creative way. Furthermore, Canguilhem shows that a biological, psychological or behavioural abnormality cannot be separated from the experience and valuation of the individual as a whole from his or her situation in a particular context. Some implications of Canguilhem’s work for psychiatry will be discussed.

keywords Georges Canguilhem, normal, pathological