Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Bloomsbury Companion to Philosophy of Psychiatry

This post is written by Şerife Tekin and Robyn Bluhm. Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Classics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has published widely in philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, and medical ethics.

Robyn Bluhm is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University. She has published widely in philosophy of neuroscience and philosophy of medicine and psychiatry. In this post, Şerife Tekin and Robyn Bluhm present their new edited volume "The Bloomsbury Companion to Philosophy of Psychiatry".


Although there has long been a close link between philosophy and psychiatry, it is only in the past few decades that philosophy of psychiatry has emerged as a field in its own right, with its specific set of questions and themes generating interest from both traditional philosophers, and mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

Consider some of these themes that have generated many philosophical and scientific questions: How must we define mental disorders? What are the criteria for the validity and reliability of scientific categories of mental disorders? Are there cross-cultural differences in the properties of mental disorders? Are mental disorder criteria responsive to the experience of people with mental disorders? How do the systematic problems in psychiatric care affect intersectional identities? What are the ethical issues concerning psychiatric diagnoses and treatment? What kind of science is psychiatry?

We are delighted to have put together a collection in philosophy of psychiatry that is accessible to a novice audience. We envision it as being useful for teaching at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels in philosophy, as well as introducing philosophical issues in psychiatry to medical students and residents.

At the same time, because the chapters in the book represent the current state of the field, it will also be of interest to professional philosophers wanting a wide overview of philosophy of psychiatry, whether because they are entirely new to the field, or in order to broaden their knowledge beyond the specific sub-area of philosophy of psychiatry in which they work.

The book provides an overview of work in contemporary philosophy of psychiatry, with each chapter providing an “opinionated introduction” to the relevant issues. A central aim of the book is to relate work in philosophy of psychiatry to issues in traditional areas of philosophy, including philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, ethics, social and political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, phenomenology, and philosophy of medicine. The chapters in these areas are accompanied by study questions, and there is an annotated bibliography at the end of the book for those who want to explore these topics further.

The book starts with an opening chapter written by us (Şerife Tekin and Robyn Bluhm), entitled, “Introduction to Philosophy of Psychiatry.” Next is Mona Gupta’s chapter “What is Psychiatry?”, which describes what psychiatrists do and distinguishes psychiatry from other areas of medical practice, from other health care professions, and from psychology. The remainder of the book is divided into sections corresponding to traditional areas of philosophy: philosophy of mind, phenomenology, philosophy of science, ethics, social and political philosophy, metaphysics and epistemology, and philosophy of medicine.

The section entitled “Philosophy of Mind and Psychiatry” focuses on how the philosophical debate on the mind-body problem illuminates central questions in psychiatry, through examples of mental disorders such as autism and psychopathy. Jesse Butler’s chapter, “The Type/token Distinction and the Understanding of Mental Phenomena in the Biopsychosocial Model,” maps the biopsychosocial model in psychiatry on to the traditional questions about token and type identity theory in philosophy of mind. In “Mind and Brain in Philosophy of Psychiatry,” Ginger Hoffman describes different ways of understanding the claim that mental disorders are brain disorders and draws out the implications of these alternatives. Next, Erick Ramirez evaluates the role of emotions in understanding psychopathy and autism in “Psychopathy, Autism, and Basic Moral Emotions.” Finally, Lana Kühle draws on recent discussions of embodiment in philosophy of mind in “Anorexia Nervosa and the Embodied Mind.”

The “Phenomenology and Psychiatry” section starts with Anthony Vincent Fernandez’s chapter, “Merleau Ponty and the Foundations of Psychopathology,” which shows the influence of Merleau-Ponty’s work on understanding the first-person experience of mental disorder. Constantin Mehmel, in “Transformation Through Dialogue: Gadamer and the Phenomenology of Impaired Intersubjectivity in Depression” provides an alternative phenomenological approach to understand the nature of intersubjectivity in depression.

“Philosophy of Science and Psychiatry” starts with Jonathan Y. Tsou’s “Philosophy of Science, Psychiatric Classification and the DSM.” Tsou focuses on various philosophical questions in the development of the most influential scientific taxonomy of mental disorders. Aaron Kotsko’s chapter “Inductive Risks and Psychiatric Classification” evaluates the role of epistemic and non-epistemic values in scientific psychiatry. In “Causal Explanation in Psychiatry,” Tuomas Pernu elaborates on various approaches to causation in the scientific research on mental disorders and shows the practical implications of these different approaches. This section ends with Ami Harbin’s discussion of how to better incorporate the importance of trauma into “Trauma-Informed Psychiatric Research.”

Claire Pouncey and Jon F. Merz open the “Ethics and Psychiatry” section with “Informed Consent and Psychiatric Treatment and Research,” where they highlight the importance and complexity of informed consent in various psychiatric settings. Next, Kelso Cratsley elaborates on coercion in psychiatry in his chapter “The Ethics of Coercion and Other Forms of Influence.” In “Voice, Silence, and Listening Well” Nancy Nyquist Potter identifies the myriad ways that people in mental distress may experience themselves as silenced or otherwise not heard. Michelle Ciurria’s chapter “Responsibility as a Dialogical, Care-Based Interaction” develops an account of responsibility that is responsive to the complexity of the experiences of people with mental disorders. Matthew Ruble concludes this section with “Philosophers, Psychopaths, and Neuroethics,” where he addresses the question of whether it is morally permissible to blame someone for contracting an illness that renders the individual unable to be an agent. 

“Social and Political Philosophy and Psychiatry” starts with Robert Chapman’s discussion of neurodiversity in his “Neurodiversity and Its Discontents.” Chapman considers a non-medical perspective on mental disorders that construes them instead as mental differences. Next is Devonya Havis and Melissa Mosko’s “Managing Individuals and Populations Through Psychiatric Classification,” in which the authors apply Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower to the state-enforced sterilization of poor women and women of colour, as well as state-sanctioned lobotomies of women in the 20th century. Bryan Mukandi in “The North African Syndrome” draws on literary texts on psychopathology to examine Frantz Fanon’s 1952 essay, ‘The “North African Syndrome”.

Christian Perring opens the “Metaphysics, Epistemology and Psychiatry” section with a discussion of the relationships among “Mental Disorder, Free Will, and Personal Autonomy.” This chapter is followed by Peter Zachar’s “Metaphysical Problems in Psychiatric Classification and Nosology,” which relates core questions in psychiatric taxonomy to traditional questions in metaphysics. Sam Fellowes, in a similar fashion, connects the core epistemological questions about realism and antirealism in philosophy to psychiatry, in his chapter “Realism, Antirealism and Psychiatric Classification.” Anke Bueter concludes this section with “Social Epistemology and Psychiatry” by discussing the importance of testimony in psychiatry.

The final section, “Philosophy of Medicine and Psychiatry” contains two chapters that connect psychiatry to the field of medicine at large. Hane Htut Maung compares the role of diagnosis in medicine and psychiatry in his chapter, “The Functions of Diagnoses in Medicine and Psychiatry.” Reinier Schuur concludes this section with a discussion of the importance of conceptual analysis in philosophy of psychiatry in his chapter “Mental Health and Illness: Past Debates and Future Directions.”

We are excited about the depth and breadth of the contributions to this volume and hope that the book both helps to introduce newcomers to philosophy of psychiatry and provide a valuable resource to people already working in this exciting and interdisciplinary area.


Şerife Tekin
Robyn Bluhm

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