Walls Within: The Politics of Mental Health


Kathleen Fitzpatrick Theatre, Arts West (Building 148)


Classifications of mental illness often have political consequences, setting mentally ill people aside as dangerous or as not to be taken seriously. This phenomenon is mirrored within people who identify themselves as mentally ill. First-person accounts often represent a mental illness as a foreign invading force in the mind, yet at the same time as familiar and sometimes identity-forming. To label a presence in your mind as an illness is, often, to treat a deep part of yourself with fear, embarrassment, or resentment.

Much recent academic and popular thinking about mental health is focused less on the notion of mental illness as a problem to be confronted and treated, and more on the notion of 'positive mental health', as a prize to be reached by the enlightened. What are the political consequences of particular conceptions of the positively healthy mind? What are the personal consequences of striving for an elusive state of positive mental health, in which your mind will be better than it is now? This lecture seeks to address these questions by presenting 'mental illness' and 'positive mental health' as irreducibly moral categories, embedding substantive if often implicit judgments about what it means to live a good human life.


Professor Simon KellerProfessor of Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington

Simon Keller is a Professor of Philosophy at Victoria University of Wellington. He works on topics in ethics and political philosophy, and the philosophy of mental health and mental disorder. He has published extensively on issues concerning special relationships, including friendship, family relationships, love, and patriotism. He has worked at Boston University and the University of Melbourne and held visiting positions at Harvard University, Rice University, and Ludwig Maximillian University Munich. His book The Limits of Loyalty won the American Philosophical Association Book Prize in 2009. He is also the author of Partiality (Princeton University Press 2013) and a coauthor of The Ethics of Patriotism: A Debate (Wiley Blackwell 2015).