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Eugène Minkowski (April 17, 1885 – November 17, 1972) was a French psychiatrist known for his incorporation of phenomenology into psychopathology and exploring the notion of "lived time". A student of Eugen Bleuler, he was also associated with the work of Henri Ey, and Ludwig Binswanger. Philosophically he was influenced by Henri Bergson and phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler.

Life and careerEdit

Minkowski was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, into a Jewish family from Lithuania, and started his medical studies in Warsaw. However, due to political repression from the czarist government, he was compelled to accomplish his education in Munich and obtained his degree there in 1909.[1] He then took up the study of philosophy and moved further away from medicine, almost to the point of abandoning it. In 1913 he married Françoise Minkowska-Brokman, also a psychiatrist and they had a child Alexandre Minkowski who went on to become a pediatrician. The couple settled in Munich, where Françoise pursued her studies in medicine while Eugène took up the study of mathematics and philosophy, attending the lectures of Alexander Pfänder and Moritz Geiger, pupils of Edmund Husserl.[2] The outbreak of World War I forced them to retreat to Zurich with Eugène's brother. In Zurich, Eugène and his wife both became assistants to Eugen Bleuler at the Burghölzli, a university clinic where many other notable psychiatrists and psychoanalysts trained and practiced such as Carl Gustav Jung and Ludwig Binswanger.

In 1914 he finished a work entitled "Les éléments essentiels du temps-qualité" (The Essential Elements of Time-Quality). In March 1915 he enlisted as a volunteer in the French army, where his bravery earned him many military decorations including the Croix de Guerre. He became an officer of the Legion of Honor and obtained French nationality. Of this period of his life and the war, Minkowski said:

"During the war we were waiting for peace, hoping to take up again the life that we had abandoned. In reality, a new period began, a period of difficulties and deceptions, of setbacks and painful, often fruitless efforts to adapt oneself to new problems of existence. The calm propitious to philosophic thought was far from reborn. Long, arid, and somber years followed the war. My work lay dormant and the bottom of my drawer".[3]
After the war, Minkowski returned to his medical studies which left him with little time for philosophy due to his clinical work. He then dedicated his studies to psychopathological issues related to the perception of time, heavily influenced by his previous unpublished work on Henri Bergson, whom he knew personally. In 1926 Minkowski defended his dissertation, "La notion de perte de contact avec la réalité et ses applications en psychopathologie" ("The Notion of Loss of Contact with Reality and its Applications in Psychopathology") and began work at St. Anne's Hospital for the Insane in Paris.

In 1927 he published "La Schizophrénie" (Schizophrenia) followed by "Les Temps Vécu" (Lived Time) in 1933. In Lived Time, his only book to be published in English, Minkowski sought to unite phenomenological ideas with psychopathology, where he proposed that psychopathological studies of patients should always be interpreted by taking into account the personal experience of time. Minkowski was initially unable to find a publisher for the work and ended up publishing one thousand copies himself with funds from himself and his father. Les Temps Vécu was eventually published by J.L.L. d'Artrey to whom Minkowski dedicated the reissue of Les Temps Vécu and said:

"This man had such a great love for books that he abandoned a career in government in order to devote all of his energies to the small publishing house which he had recently established. Our journal, L'Evolution psychiatrique, which was founded shortly after World War I by a group of young psychiatrists in search of a publisher, was also given assistance by Mr. d'Artrey. As a token of my appreciation, I am dedicating the reissue of this book to J.L.L. d'Artrey, a man who gave himself unstintingly in order to meet the financial needs of his publishing house and of his authors. Without him, Lived Time would probably not have been published".[4]
During World War II, Minkowski directed the work Save the Children of the Holocaust which saved thousands of Jewish children. In 1946 he gave one of the first Basel lectures on the psychological suffering of Nazi persecution and went on to intervene in numerous lawsuits filed in respect of such crimes.

Eugène Minkowski died in 1972 and his burial was attended by many, including Henri Ey.

Philosophy and psychopathologyEdit

The two main influences upon Minkowski's thought were Eugen Bleuler and Henri Bergson, who both represented for him the two major fields of thought which he attempted to synthesize, psychiatry and philosophy. Prior to the war, he had a great interest in philosophy, particularly the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler. It was only after the war that Minkowski actively sought to integrate philosophy into his psychopathological work, taking a similar approach to Karl Jaspers, who influenced him, by introducing phenomenology as a method applied to psychopathological investigations on patients suffering from mental disturbances. The introduction of the phenomenological method into psychopathology, for Minkowski, is the attempt to understand the lived experience of the mentally ill. In such cases, distortions of lived time or lived space are evident; some patients are distorted in terms of time, others in terms of space.

Philosophically, Minkowski was influenced by both Bergson and Husserl, both of whom developed unique and individual accounts of time. At the beginning of his career, Minkowski was very much influenced by Bergson’s 1889 work Time and Free Will and his analyses of the irrational nature of time. Following Bergson's account of élan vital, Minkowski developed what he called a "personal élan" which expresses the essential source of the constitution of time.

Minkowski's first research on the psychopathology of schizophrenia was inspired by the work of Bergson and appeared in his 1927 work La Schizophrénie. Schizophrenia, according to Minkowski is "characterized by a deficiency of intuition and of lived time and by a progressive hypertrophy of the intelligence and spatial factors".[5] Following on from his dissertation, La notion de perte de contact avec la réalité (The Loss of Contact with Reality), his work on schizophrenia claimed that schizophrenic patients display a "loss of vital contact with reality" whereby normal subjects, by contrast, experience life as a "lived syncronism" or what he called "syntony" (a notion which describes contact with reality previously put forward by Ernst Kretschmer).

According to R.D. Laing, Minkowski made "the first serious attempt in psychiatry to reconstruct the other person's lived experience" and was "the first figure in psychiatry to bring the nature of phenomenological investigations clearly into view".[6] He is quoted on the first page of Laing's classic The Divided Self:

"Je donne une œuvre subjective ici, œuvre cependant qui tend de toutes ses forces vers l'objectivité." (I offer you a subjective work, but a work which nevertheless struggles with all its might towards objectivity.)

Major works (in French)Edit

  • La Notion de perte contact vital avec la réalité et ses applications en psychopathologie (Paris: Jouve, 1926)
  • La schizophrénie: Psychopathologie des schizoïdes et des schizophrènes (Paris: Payot, 1927)
  • Le Temps vécu. Étude phénoménologique et psychopathologiques (Paris: D'Artrey, 1933)
  • Vers une cosmologie. Fragments philosophiques, (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1936)
  • Traité de psychopathologie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968)
  • Au-delà du rationalisme morbide (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000)
  • Écrits cliniques, (Eres, 2002)

Major works (in English)Edit

  • Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, transl. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970.

Articles (in German)Edit

  • 1911 "Zur müllerschen Lehre von den spezifischen Sinnesenergien." Zeitsschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorganen (Leipzig), XLV, 129-52.
  • 1913 "Die Zenkersche Theorie der Farbenperzeption (Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis und Beurteilung der physiologischen Farbentheorien)." Zeitsschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorganen, XLVII, No. 2, 211-22.
  • 1914 "Betrachtungen im Anschuluss an das Prinzip des psychophysischen Parallelismus". Archiv für die gesamte Psychologie (Leipzig and Berlin), XXXI, 132-243.
  • "Inhalt, symbolische Darstellung und Begründung des Grundsatzes der Identität als Grundsatz unseres Vorstellens". Archiv für systematische Philosophie (Berlin), XX, No. 2, 209-19.
  • 1923 "Bleuler's Schizoidie und Syntonie und das Zeiterlebnis". Zietschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie (Berlin), LXXXII, 212-30.
  • "Probleme der Vererbung von Geisteskrankheiten auf Grund von psychiatrischen un genealogischen Untersuchungen an zwei Familien" (in collaboration with F. Minskowska). Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie (Zurich), XII, 47-70.

Articles (in French)Edit

  • 1920 "Famille B... et famille F..., contribution à l'étude de l'hérédité des maladies mentales" (in collaboration with F. Minkowska). Annales médico-psychologiques (Paris), LXXVII, 303-28.
  • 1923 "Étude psychologique et analyse phénoménologique d'un cas de mélancolie schizophrénique.",Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique, 20, 543-558.
  • Contribution à l'études des ideés d'influence" (in collaboration with R. Targowla). L'Encéphale, XVIII, No.10, 652-59.
  • 1925 "La genèse de la notion de schizophrénie et ses caractères essentiels" , L'Évolution psychiatrique.
  • 1927 "De la rêverie morbide au délire d'influence" , L'Évolution psychiatrique.
  • 1938 "Á propos de l'hygiène mentale : Quelques réflexions", Annales médicopsychologiques, avril 1938.
  • 1946 L'Anesthésie Affective, Annales Médico-Psychologiques,104,80-88.
  • 1952 Le Rorschach dans l'œuvre de F. Minkowska in Bulletin du groupement français du Rorschach.
  • 1963 "Vers quels horizons nous emmène Bachelard", Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 17e année, no. 66, fasc 4, 1963.
  • 1964 Métaphore et Symbole,Cahiers Internationaux de Symbolisme, n°5.
  • 1965 À l'origine le un et le deux sont-ils nécessairement des nombres ? À propos du monisme et du dualisme, in Revue philosophique de Louvain, Volume 63.

Articles (in English)Edit

  • 1923 Findings in a Case of Schizophrenic Depression, transl. Barbara Bliss in Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. (pp. 127–138) New York, NY, US: Basic Books. Rollo May (Ed), 1958.
  • 1926 Bergson's Conceptions as Applied to Psychopathology, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 63, n°4, juin 1926,553-568.[7]
  • 1947 The Psychology of the Deportees, American OSE Review 4, Summer-Fall 1947.

Articles (in Spanish)Edit

  • 1933 "La Psiquiatria en 1932" (in collaboration with P. Guiraud). Revista de criminologia, psiquiatria y medicina légal (Buenos Aires), XX, 322-37.
  • "La Psiquiatria en 1933" (in collaboration with P. Guiraud). Revista de criminologia, XXI, 250-364.


  1. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. URL accessed on 7 June 2011.
  2. Spiegelberg, Herbert (1972). Phenomenology in Psychology and Psychiatry, Northwestern University Press.
  3. Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, transl. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970. pp. 6-7.
  4. Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, transl. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970. p. xxxvii.
  5. Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, transl. by Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Press, Evanston. 1970. p. 272.
  6. R.D. Laing, "Minkowski and Schizophrenia," Review of Existential Psychology XI (1963), 207.
  7. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern culture by Jonathan Crary

External linksEdit

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