The Name of the Sphinx. A semiotic contribution to the debate on the term 'schizophrenia'

  • Luigi Lobaccaro
Keywords: Schizophrenia, Psychiatric labelling, Renaming, Participative opposition, Semiotics, Mental illness stigma


Schizophrenia is regarded as one of the greatest mysteries in the entire realm of human knowledge, to the extent that it is described as the ‘sphinx of psychiatry’ (Borgna 1995). Concerns have been raised about the clinical emptiness and stigmatizing connotations associated with the term, leading to calls for its replacement with a less problematic definition. By examining the paradigmatic case of Japan and other Asian countries, where a name change has been introduced, this paper will demonstrate some limitations of the proposed replacement. Subsequently, the article will frame these limitations through a semiotic approach, illustrating how the validity of the opposition between the term schizophrenia and its substitutes relies on a relational difference that is not exclusive but participatory in nature (Paolucci 2010). It will then be shown how the issue related to the name schizophrenia is not about the denomination of the diagnostic entity, but rather about the meaning and values determined by cultural logic. While introducing a new label may offer short-term benefits, it is essential to consider the coexistence of both old and new terms within the cultural landscape to ensure a fruitful debate on this matter.


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How to Cite
Lobaccaro, L. (2023) “ The Name of the Sphinx. A semiotic contribution to the debate on the term ’schizophrenia’”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio. doi: 10.4396/2022SFL11.