Bénédict Morel  

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“The degenerate human being, if he is abandoned to himself, falls into a progressive degradation. He becomes…not only incapable of forming part of the chain of transmission of progress in human society, he is the greatest obstacle to this progress through his contact with the healthy proportion of the population.”--Treatise on the Physical, Intellectual and Moral Degeneration of the Human Race (1857) by Bénédict Augustin Morel

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Bénédict Augustin Morel (November 22, 1809March 30, 1873), was an Austrian-French physician who was a seminal figure in the field of psychiatry in 19th century Europe.

Morel coined the term démence precoce to describe a mental disorder which initially struck males when they were teens or young adults, and eventually led to deterioration of mental functioning and disability. German psychologist Emil Kraepelin later called it by the Latin name of dementia praecox, which is now known as schizophrenia, which was coined by Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler in 1908.

Morel, influenced by naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, saw mental deficiency as the end stage of a process of mental deterioration. It was through Darwin's writings that Morel created his theory of "degeneration" concerning mental problems from early life to adulthood. In 1857, he published the Treatise on the Physical, Intellectual and Moral Degeneration of the Human Race, in which he argued that some illnesses are caused by degeneration.

Morel's interest in psychiatry was enhanced in the mid-1840s when he visited several mental institutions throughout Europe. In 1848 he was appointed director of the Asile d'Aliénés de Maréville at Nancy. Here he introduced reforms regarding the welfare of the mentally ill, particularly liberalization of restraining methods. At the Maréville asylum he studied the mentally handicapped, researching their family histories and examining aspects such as poverty and early physical illnesses. He also believed that external agents such as alcohol and drugs could be a factor in the course of mental development.

Partial Bibliography:

  • Traité des maladies mentales. 2 volumes; Paris, 1852-1853; 2nd edition, 1860. (In the 2nd edition he coined the term démence-precoce to refer to mental degeneration.}
  • Le no-restraint ou de l’abolition des moyens coercitifs dans le traitement de la folie. Paris, 1861
  • Traité du goître et du crétinisme. Paris, 1864
  • De la formation des types dans les variétés dégénérées. Volume 1; Rouen, 1864

See also

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