"As one infirm, I approach the balm of life": Psychiatric medication, agency, and freedom in the psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas
People often take psychiatric medication in order to obtain both freedom from painful experience and freedom for relationships and vocation. Thomas Aquinas' account of agency and freedom offers resources for using medications wisely. For Aquinas, bodily health is only the beginning of freedom. True freedom-always realized imperfectly in this life and perfected only with the assistance of grace-emerges when the acting person consistently pursues life-giving ends and develops habits to act for these ends with ease and pleasure. Psychiatric medications can encourage agency and freedom by correcting pathological processes, by relieving incapacitating suffering, and perhaps by lowering barriers to habituation in virtue, but they can also discourage agency and freedom by inhibiting morally salient emotional responses, by facilitating avoidance of pathological social contexts, and by reinforcing biological determinism. Psychiatric medications must be used only in ways that attend to social context and that encourage the cultivation of healthy agency.
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