Did He Really Say That?

By Robert M. Philmus ’64 / January / February 2008
January 29th, 2008

You report that Lee Silver, in rebutting Francis Fukuyama’s argument that every evil that bioengineering might be able to eliminate has its good, picked bipolar disorder as a counterexample (“Playing God,” Elms, November/December). He thereby made a better case for Fukuyama’s position than his opponent did.

Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare were all manic-depressives (or, in current psychiatric terminology, bipolars), as were all the major English Romantic poets. Kay Redfield Jamison, a leading authority on bipolar disorder and herself a manic-depressive, says as much in her 1995 book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, though with Shakespeare she conveys her diagnosis implicitly, via her comments about Hamlet.

Why Silver chose as a candidate for elimination a disease which, in its manic phase, has been responsible for so much creativity I don’t know. And I’m even more perplexed that he didn’t instead propose Huntington’s Syndrome, say, which has no up side that I’m aware of. What Silver did prove is that scientists are generally not well-suited to philosophizing.

Robert M. Philmus ’64



The writer is a professor emeritus of English at Concordia University.

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January / February 2008