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 best known for having incorporated phenomenology into French psychopathology and psychiatric knowledge.
In this article we will briefly review his biography: origin, personal life, academic and professional career, contributions to the field of psychiatry and philosophy, some of his works, death and legacy.
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Eugene Minkowski: Who will it be?
Eugene Minkowski was a French psychiatrist of Polish Jewish origin, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 17, 1885, and died November 17, 1972 in Paris, France, at the age of 87.
One of the greatest psychopathologists in France, Eugène Minkowski (1885-1972), he was also one of the most recognized French psychiatrists in world psychiatry. In addition, he is considered the founder of psychiatric phenomenology, alongside Otto Binswanger, a leading Swiss psychiatrist and neurologist.
More specifically, on November 25, 1922, at the 63rd Conference of the Swiss Psychiatric Society (Zurich), his study entitled “A Case of Schizophrenic Melancholy” was presented, along with a report on phenomenology, by Binswanger. These contributions were essential in naming Eugène Minkowski and Otto Binswanger as the fathers of psychiatric phenomenology.
Eugène Minkowski’s ideas began to spread beyond Switzerland and France and, in 1958, they reached the United States, thanks to two authors: Henri Ellemberger and Rotllo May.
Eugène Minkowski was born into a Polish Jewish family. His father Augustus spent his youth developing the grain market in St. Petersburg, where Minkowski was born. Minkowski is the second of four brothers.
In his childhood, he turned out to be a brilliant student and was distinguished by his interest in the political and social sphere.
Trajectory and personal life
Eugène Minkowski’s family returns to Warsaw with him. During these years (1905), Minkowski doubted which studies to pursue (whether mathematics, medicine or philosophy); Eventually, however, he ended up studying medicine at Warsaw College alongside his older brother, Mietek. His choice is linked to his sensitivity and his vocation to help people.
Minkowski completed his studies in 1908 and moved to Munich. A year later he returned to Russia, more precisely to Kazan. There he met Rorschah and Françoise Trockman, his future wife, whom he married in 1913. Françoise Trockman is a psychiatrist, also Jewish, and daughter of a Pole from Russia.
Françoise’s professional interests and concerns are similar to those of Minkowski. 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 pupil of Eugen Bleuler, a renowned Swiss psychiatrist. More precisely, Eugène Minkowski and Françoise Trockman, during the First World War, took refuge in Switzerland, where they carried out an “internship” at the Eugen Bleuler clinic (more precisely in Zurich). In Zurich, the couple fled with Minkowski’s brother: Mieczysław.
It was at the Bleuler clinic that Minkowski, as a clinic assistant, had the opportunity to ask himself if he wanted to specialize in psychiatry. Bleuler influenced Minkowski, who was 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 certain knowledge of psychiatry and philosophy.
Later, in 1915, the couple moved to Paris. Here, Minkowski works at the Ville-Évrard asylum; in addition, he launched research on “the essential elements of time and its quality”. Minkowski then enlisted as a medical officer in the French navy, where he spent two years on the front line.
In 1925, Eugène Minkowski, Françoise Trockman and Paul Schiff founded the group “L’Évolution psychiatrique”. It was a company through which a magazine of 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 (by the hand of Ludwig Binswanger and his existential analysis) and by the vitalist philosophy of the Franco-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 the introduction of phenomenology to psychopathology. Phenomenology is currently considered a philosophical school, which analyzes observable phenomena and tries to explain the being and his consciousness.
Another contribution of Minkowski was the notion of “lived time”; with this name he names one of his great works, where he reflects his knowledge in phenomenology and psychopathology.
One of Eugène Minkowski’s great contributions was his reflection on schizophrenia. The psychiatrist considered schizophrenia as a “generative problem”, that is, as a generative disorder; he argued that schizophrenia involved a loss of vital contact with reality, as with autism.
According to Minkowski, schizophrenia occurred (textual words): “by a deficiency in the sense of time and intuition, and by a progressive hypertrophy of the comprehension of the spatial factors”.
If we go back a little further, we see how Minkowski attempts to bring phenomenology into his field of research on psychopathology and mental disorders. Thus, Minkowski tries to explain the experience of certain patients (with schizophrenia, for example); more specifically, it focuses on those who have experienced distortions in two areas or elements: time and space.
Thus, in 1927, Minkowski published his first research on the psychopathology of schizophrenia. To conduct this research, he was influenced by Bergson. His work is called “Schizophrenia”. This is the first book on schizophrenia written in French.
Some of Eugene Minkowski’s most notable works on psychiatry, psychopathology, philosophy, and phenomenology were: “Schizophrenia: Psychopathology of Schizoids and Schizophrenics” (1927), “Treatise on Psychopathology” (1966).) And “Philosophy , Semantics, Psychopathology “1969).
Another of his remarkable works, originally in French, sound: El temps viscut. Phenomenological and psychopathological study (Paris: D’Artrey, 1933), The notion of loss of vital contact with reality and its applications in psychopathology (Paris: Jouve, 1926), Vers une cosmologie (1936) and Clinical writings, (Eres, 2002)).
In addition to his books, Eugène Minkowski has published a large number of articles, also very diverse, which can be found in French, English, German, Spanish and Polish.
Death and inheritance
Eugène Minkowski died in Paris on November 17, 1972, And at the age of 87. Her death comes accompanied by her daughter and some close friends.
Minkowski’s legacy is of great importance, especially in 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. Historical and epistemological essay. Feltrinelli, Milan.
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.