Saturday, 1 January 2022

Thomas Szasz: The Insanity Defence – and Competency to Stand Trial. Jeffrey Schaler and Richard Vatz conduct Inner Circle Seminar 276 (30 October 2022)

Thomas Szasz

(15 April 1920  8 September 2012)

The second of two Inner Circle Seminars

marking the 10th anniversary of Thomas Szasz’s death

The Insanity Defence – And Competency To Stand Trial

Jeffrey Schaler    Richard Vatz

conduct by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 276

introduced by Anthony Stadlen

Sunday 30 October 2022

2 p.m. to 5 p.m.  6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  London time – GMT

Jeffrey Schaler
Richard Vatz

Todays seminar is the second of two Inner Circle Seminars this month marking the tenth anniversary of Thomas Szaszs death.
In this seminar, Professors Jeffrey Schaler and Richard Vatz will answer questions, lead discussion, and address a myriad of clinical, legal, and social policy concerns in relation to the insanity defence and related issues, including competency to stand trial and irresistible impulse. Their discussion will be illuminated by the writings of their close friend and colleague, the late psychiatrist and professor Thomas Szasz.
Schaler and Vatz are widely respected experts on and exponents of Szasz’s thinking on disease and behaviour, liberty and responsibility, psychiatry, psychology, and psychiatric rhetoric and jargon. They have taught and debated Szasz’s ideas since the 1980s. Their latest edited book is Thomas Szasz: The Man and His Ideas (2017). They are both responsible for teaching Szasz’s ideas to thousands of university students around the world.
Thomas Szasz explained to the world for over fifty-five years how involuntary commitment to mental hospitals and the insanity defence are two sides of the same coin.
In a similar way, Schaler and Vatz will explain how responsibility and freedom are two sides of the same metaphorical coin, positively correlated to one another. The therapeutic state, that union of medicine and state that has come to replace the theocratic state, is the primary architect of the myth of mental illness and its function as the greatest threat to freedom today.
Vatz and Schaler have collaborated as authors and teachers for many years now.
Professor Vatz was one of the very first people to receive the esteemed Szasz Award. Professor Schaler is the only person in the world to receive two Szasz awards.
Strictly speaking, ‘insanity’ is a legal, not a medical term. It is used in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere to exculpate or remove responsibility for criminal behaviour. Its origins were in the M’Naghten case of the 1800s. Daniel M’Naghten in 1843 shot the secretary of Englands prime minister Sir Robert Peel, whom he had mistaken for Peel. Medical experts testified that M’Naghten was insane, and the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. The M’Naghten Rule (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, McNaughton) was established by the House of Lords on the basis of this verdict. It states:

‘Every man is to be presumed to be sane and, to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.’
(Queen v. M'Naghten, 8 Eng. Rep. 718 [1843])

Thus the issue is whether a criminal defendant (1) knew the nature of the crime or (2) understood right from wrong at the time it was committed. To be declared legally insane under this test, a defendant must meet one of these two distinct criteria.

Professors Schaler and Vatz will identify variations on the insanity defence in claims relating to addiction, competency to stand trial, and involuntary mental hospitalization procedures. These will include the Durham Rule and the American Law Institute (ALI) Model Penal Code Rule. The ALI Rule broadened the M'Naghten Rule to a question of whether a defendant had ‘substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of [his] conduct’ and added a volitional component as to whether he was lacking in ‘substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the law’. 

Professor Schaler will also discuss the thinking on addiction and insanity, including three highly influential United States Supreme Court rulings on addiction as a form of insanity: Robinson v. California, 1962; Powell v. Texas, 1968; and Traynor v. Turnage, 1988.

Participants will learn how to deconstruct claims regarding insanity and mental illness.

Professors Schaler and Vatz’s work develops and updates the ideas of Thomas Szaszs astonishing and refreshing books and papers written over a period of sixty years.

Jeffrey A. Schaler is an existential psychoanalyst in private practice since 1975; former Professor of Justice, Law, and Society at American University; author of Addiction is a Choice (2000); editor of Szasz under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics (2004), and co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: The Man and His Ideas (2017). He produced and owns www.szasz.comHis website is He received the Thomas S. Szasz Award in 1999 and the Thomas Szasz Award of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in 2002. Professor Schaler conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 132, Addiction is a Choice, on 12 October 2008, one of the best attended of all the Inner Circle Seminars so far. He co-conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 188, Thomas Szasz: In Memoriam, on 3 March 2013; Inner Circle Seminar No. 234, Thomas Szasz: 65 Years of Writing: 1947-2012, on 12 March 2017; and Inner Circle Seminar No. 258, The Myth of Thomas Szasz, on 14 June 2020.
Richard Vatz is tenured full Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Towson University wherein he has served for 45 years. He received the Thomas S. Szasz Award in 1993. He received many awards from Towson University. He is co-author of Thomas Szasz: Primary Values and Major Contentions (1983), co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: The Man and His Ideas (2017), and author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model (new edition, 2019)He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and blogs. Professor Vatz co-conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 258, The Myth of Thomas Szasz, on 14 June 2020.
Todays seminar is the second of two this month marking the tenth anniversary of Thomas Szaszs death. The first, Inner Circle Seminar No. 275, on 9 October 2022, Addressing Your Questionswill be conducted by Keith Hoeller and Anthony Stadlen, both also colleagues and friends of Thomas Szaszs, who co-conducted with Jeffrey Schaler and Richard Vatz Inner Circle Seminar No. 258 on 14 June 2020, The Myth of Thomas Szasz, celebrating the centenary of Szaszs birth.

These will both be online seminars, using Zoom.

There will be a reduction for those attending both of this monthSzasz-related seminars.
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, or £210 for both this months Szasz-related seminars; others £175, or £262 for both seminars; some bursaries; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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