PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Culture and the Classification of Mental Disorders


In this paper, I argue that due to the sociocultural factors that partly cause and maintain mental disorders, their classification should be based on interdisciplinary studies. The DSM and ICD classification systems are flawed because they are founded on symptoms. This cuts them off from scientific studies and ties them closely to folk-psychology. Consequently, the National Institute of Mental Health has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project in order to lay the foundation for a new classification system. Yet the RDoC, as well as the DMS and ICD, presuppose that mental disorders are brain dysfunctions. I will argue against this reductionist assumption for two reasons. First, mental disorder definitions are irreducibly value-laden. I will show that the prominent attempts by Jeremy Wakefield and Christopher Boorse to naturalize mental disorders as biological dysfunctions face insurmountable problems. Second, classificatory schemes should track the natural kind structure of mental disorders that is caused and upheld by multiple mechanisms, including sociocultural processes. Otherwise, if we disregard the multifaceted nature of mental disorder, we run the risk of imposing the flawed Western diagnostic categories around the world, instead of discovering them. Consequently, classificatory projects should consult for example anthropological and psychological studies in addition to neuroscience research.

Author Information:

Tuomas Vesterinen    
Theoretical Philosophy
University of Helsinki


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