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Insanity

Insanity (sometimes, madness) is a semi-permanent severe disorder of the mind, typically as a result of mental illness.

In criminal law, it is the assessment that the disorder is severe enough as to relieve an accused of legal responsibility for their actions. An insanity defense is based on claiming this is the case, and that a sentence should involve treatment rather than imprisonment (or, in the case of temporary insanity, that no sentence should be applied at all).

In civil law, insanity renders a person unfit for entering contracts or other legal obligations. In some judicial systems, it may allow for someone to be involuntarily committed.

In popular culture, something "insane" is something extremely foolish, while persons may be deemed "insane" if they their behaviour strongly deviates from accepted social norms. The term is typically negative, but departure from established norms may also be seen as a positive quality; in this case, being "insane" is being daringly unconventional or individualistic. This use of insane is illustrated by the following quote from Henry David Thoreau's A Plea for Captain John Brown:

Many, no doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves.

In this sense, "insanity" is not implied to be an actual disorder, let alone severe.

In some views, what is insane by mainstream definitions is not necessarily a disorder of the mind, but may simply be a different way of being that is judged as unacceptable on social or cultural grounds. This is stronger than the meaning discussed above—in this case, it is implied that what is seen as actual insanity by others is not (and by extension, that there is no mental illness). Since great legal and social consequences are attached to being declared insane (ranging from possibly having one's freedom curtailed by involuntary commitment to escaping punishment by falsely convincing others of insanity), these matters are a source of considerable controversy.

As a state of mental disorder, insanity has historically been attributed to supernatural or divine causes where theories of mental illnesses were not developed. Aberrant or destructive behaviour from an individual has been explained as another entity taking over their body (demonic possession) or as a mental unhinging inflicted by the gods, as punishment for wrongdoing. In these theories, insanity is an external condition overriding an otherwise sane mind (which may not ever manifest itself). That demonic possession occurs and can be a valid explanation for insanity in some cases is still asserted by some, but this view holds no more than minority acceptance.


The information above is not intended for and should not be used as a substitute for the diagnosis and/or treatment by a licensed, qualified, health-care professional. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It incorporates material originating from the Wikipedia article "Insanity".

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