We review the life and work of this renowned 20th century psychiatrist.
Who was Eugène Minkowski? He is a renowned French psychiatrist and philosopher, of Polish Jewish origin, born in 1885 and died in 1972. He is known above all for having incorporated phenomenology into French psychopathology and psychiatric knowledge.
In this article we will briefly review his biography: origin, personal life, academic and work trajectory, contributions to the field of psychiatry and philosophy, some of his works, death and legacy.
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Eugène Minkowski: who was it?
Eugène Minkowski was a French psychiatrist of Polish Jewish origin, who was born in Saint Petersburg (Russia), on April 17, 1885, and who died on November 17, 1972 in Paris (France), at the age of 87.
One of the leading specialists in psychopathology in France, Eugène Minkowski (1885-1972), was also one of the most renowned French psychiatrists in world psychiatry. In addition, he is considered the founder of psychiatric phenomenology, along with Otto Binswanger, a leading Swiss psychiatrist and neurologist.
Specifically, on November 25, 1922, his study called “A case of schizophrenic melancholy” was presented at the 63rd Conference of the Swiss Psychiatric Society (Zurich), as well as a report on phenomenology, by Binswanger. they were key to naming Eugène Minkowski and Otto Binswanger as fathers of psychiatric phenomenology.
The ideas of Eugène Minkowski began to spread beyond Switzerland and France, and in 1958 they reached the United States, thanks to two other authors: Henri Ellemberger and Rollo May.
Eugène Minkowski was born into a Polish Jewish family. His father Augustus was dedicated during his youth to develop the grain market in Saint Petersburg, where Minkowski was born. Minkowski is the second of four siblings.
In his childhood he turns out to be a brilliant student, and stands out for his interest in the political and social sphere.
Career and personal life
Eugène Minkowski’s family returns to Warsaw with him. In those years (1905), Minkowski doubts about which studies to take (if mathematics, medicine or philosophy); finally, but, he ends up studying medicine at the Warsaw College with his older brother, Mietek. Your choice has to do with your sensitivity and vocation to help people.
Minkowski finished his studies in 1908 and went to Munich. A year later he returned to Russia, specifically to Kazan. There he meets Rorschah and Françoise Trockman, his future wife, whom he married in 1913. Françoise Trockman is a psychiatrist, also Jewish, and daughter of Poles in Russia.
Françoise’s professional interests and concerns are similar to Minkowski’s. Françoise also makes great contributions; one of them is the introduction of the Hermann Rorschach test in France.
Trajectory and influences
Another interesting fact about Minkowski’s career is that he was a student of Eugen Bleuler, a renowned Swiss psychiatrist. Specifically, Eugène Minkowski and Françoise Trockman, during the First World War, took refuge in Switzerland, where they did an “internship” at Eugen Bleuler’s clinic (specifically in Zurich). To Zurich the couple flees with Minkowski’s brother: Mieczysław.
It is at Bleuler’s clinic that Minkowski, as a clinic assistant, has the opportunity to think about whether he wants to specialize in psychiatry. Bleuler influences Minkowski, who is very interested in the clinical practice of the former. Another of the authors who influence him is Karl Jaspers ; Through his influences (and others) Minkowski tries to synthesize some knowledge of psychiatry and philosophy.
Later, in 1915, the couple settled in Paris. There Minkowski works in the Ville-Évrard asylum; in addition, he begins an investigation on “the essential elements of time and its quality”. Later Minkowski enlisted as a military doctor in the French army, where he remained for two years on the front line.
In 1925 Eugène Minkowski, Françoise Trockman and Paul Schiff founded the group “L’Évolution psychiatrique”. It was a society through which a magazine bearing the same name was created, and which allowed the introduction of phenomenology and psychoanalysis in France.
On the other hand, Minkowski is influenced by phenomenological philosophy, logically (from the hand of Ludwig Binswanger and his existential analysis) and by the vitalist philosophy of the French-Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson. Other authors who influenced his work were Edmund Husserl, a German philosopher, and Max Scheler, also a German philosopher.
As we have seen, Minkowski is known in the field of psychiatry for introducing phenomenology into psychopathology. Currently, phenomenology is considered a philosophical school, which analyzes observable phenomena and tries to explain the being and its consciousness.
Another contribution of Minkowski was the notion of “lived time”; With this name he baptizes one of his great works, where he reflects his knowledge of phenomenology and psychopathology.
One of the great contributions of Eugène Minkowski was his reflection on schizophrenia. The psychiatrist considered schizophrenia as a “generative problem”, that is, as a generating disorder; He argued that schizophrenia involved a loss of vital contact with reality, as does autism.
According to Minkowski, schizophrenia was produced (verbatim words): “by a deficiency in the sense of time and intuition, and by a progressive hypertrophy of the understanding of spatial factors”
If we go a little further back, we see how Minkowski tries to introduce phenomenology in his field of research on psychopathology and mental disorders. Thus, Minkowski tries to explain the experience of some patients (with schizophrenia, for example); specifically, it focuses on those who suffered distortions in two areas or elements: time and space.
Thus, in 1927, Minkowski published his first research on the psychopathology of schizophrenia. To carry out this research, he is influenced by Bergson. He titled his work “La Schizophrénie”. It is the first book on schizophrenia written in French.
Some of the most outstanding works by Eugène Minkowski, dealing with psychiatry, psychopathology, philosophy and phenomenology, were: “Schizophrenia: Psychopathology of schizoids and schizophrenics” (1927), “Treatise on psychopathology” (1966) and “Philosophy, semantics, psychopathology” (1969).
Other of his outstanding works, originally in French, are: Le Temps vécu. Étude phénoménologique et psychopathologiques (Paris: D’Artrey, 1933), La Notion de perte contact vital avec la réalité et ses applications in psychopathology (Paris: Jouve, 1926), Vers une cosmologie (1936) and Écrits cliniques, (Eres, 2002 ).
In addition to his books, Eugène Minkowski published a large number of articles, also very diverse, that we can find in French, English, German, Spanish and Polish.
Death and legacy
Eugène Minkowski died in Paris on November 17, 1972, at the age of 87. His death occurs accompanied by his daughter and some close friends.
The legacy that Minkowski leaves is of great importance, especially for the field of psychopathology and phenomenology, and his contributions continue to be studied in medicine, psychology and other related sciences.
Almada, R. (2008). Phenomenology and psychopathology of “lived time” in Eugène Minkowski.
Francioni, M. (1976). The phenomenological psychology of Eugenio Minkowski. Saggio storico ed epistemologico. Feltrinelli, Milano.
Lanteri-Laura, G. (1965). Phenomenological psychiatry. Die, Buenos Aires.
Rahmani, R. and Pacheco, L. (2018). Classics of Psychiatry (XXXVI): Eugène Minkowski. Lmentala, 61: 1-12.