Jerome Wakefeild

New York University

Nosology Wars!: The Concept of Disorder and the Future of Psychiatric Classification.

We are living through an interesting and rather tumultuous time in the history of psychiatric nosology. I will provide an overview of how we got here and, I’m afraid, a rather skeptical and conservative assessment of various proposals for where we should go in the immediate future. I will be guided by my “harmful dysfunction” analysis of the concept of mental disorder, which I will briefly explain and defend with some recent supportive evidence. The tumult arises from the widespread perception, which I will argue is not wholly accurate, that the dominant “neo-Kraepelinian” (or better, I will argue, “neo-Spitzerian”) approach to psychiatric diagnosis and classification has decisively failed, leaving psychiatry without a conceptual framework. Keeping in mind Santayana’s aphorism that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” I argue that the origins of the current system lie in foundational conceptual issues of psychiatry’s medical legitimacy that cannot be ignored lest psychiatry confront a new antipsychiatry challenge, and that the proposals on offer to replace the current neo-Kraepelinian system fail to adequately address this issue.

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Phoebe Friesen

McGill University

Standpoint Theory and the Psy Sciences :

Can Marginalization and Critical Engagement Lead to an Epistemic Advantage?

As participatory research practices are increasingly taken up in health research, claims related to experiential authority and expertise are frequently made. Here, in an exploration of what grounds such claims, we consider how feminist standpoint theory might apply to the psy sciences. Standpoint theory claims that experiences of marginalization and critical engagement can lead to a standpoint which offers an epistemic advantage within a domain of knowledge. We examine such experiences of marginalization and critical engagement in the mental health system, as well as evidence for epistemic advantages resulting from these experiences. This evidence, found in the identification of problematic assumptions and the development of new tools and theories in the field, grounds our argument that standpoint theory is indeed relevant to the psy sciences and that many of those who have experienced marginalization and engaged critically have an epistemic advantage when it comes to knowledge production. The implications of this argument are significant: those who have attained a standpoint within the psy sciences ought to be included in research and given both tools and funding to develop research programs. However, we must be weary of risks of tokenization, cooptation, and essentialization that are likely to accompany such a transformation.

Rachel Cooper

Lancaster University

The concept of mental disorder revisited: Robustly value-laden despite conceptual change

Our concept of disorder is changing. This causes problems for projects of descriptive conceptual analysis. Conceptual change means that a criterion that was necessary for a condition to be a disorder at one time may cease to be necessary a relatively short time later.  Nevertheless, some conceptually-based claims will be fairly robust. In particular, the claim that no adequate account of disorder can appeal only to biological facts can be maintained for the foreseeable future. This is because our current concept of disorder continues to be laden with ethical and political values in multiple different ways.


Serife Tekin

University of Texas at San Antonio


Rethinking Objectivity in Psychiatry: Unmuting Patients in Epistemic Practices

One of the central aims of psychiatry is to identify the properties of mental disorders to enable their diagnosis and treatment. As a branch of both science and medicine, psychiatry draws on a variety of scientific and medical practices to glean information about these properties. These practices include scientific research on mental disorders, such as clinical drug trials for depression treatment, as well as clinical research, such as case studies on treatment resistant depression. The ultimate goal is to develop effective interventions into mental disorders. While the first-person experience and reports of individuals with mental disorders provide unmatched resources for investigating the properties of mental disorders and designing effective interventions, dominant psychiatric frameworks have not systematically included patients in the scientific inquiry. Patient communities are rarely considered “subjects” who produce knowledge. Rather, patients are “objects” of investigation, e.g., when they are recruited for clinical trials. This problematic epistemic exclusion is most evident in the creation/revision process of the Diagnostic and the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), i.e., the primary classificatory schema used to expand knowledge on mental disorders. From the publication of the DSM-I (1952) to the DSM-5 (2013), patients were never part of the decision-making process. While there were extensive calls to the APA to include patients and their families in the DSM-5 revision process to make it more democratic, the APA opposed this on epistemic grounds, suggesting patients’ involvement would compromise psychiatry’s commitment to objectivity.

In this paper, I argue there are epistemic – rather than exclusively social/political – reasons for including individuals with mental disorders in psychiatry’s efforts to identify the properties of mental disorders. In the context of the crisis, controversy, and uncertainty in current mental health research and treatment, individuals with mental disorders can serve as important resources to enhance psychiatric epistemology. I challenge APA’s position by demonstrating the notion of objectivity operant in its reasoning is insufficiently examined. It is reminiscent of positivism which characterizes objectivity as “detached” or “impartial” knowledge. An account of scientific objectivity developed by feminist philosophers is a better fit for psychiatry. As a collective enterprise shaped by a variety of scientific and medical practices that aim to develop effective interventions for mental disorders, psychiatry requires the inclusion of patients’ perspectives if it is to be objective. In what I call the Participatory Intersubjective Objectivity in Psychiatry (PIOP) view, psychiatry represents the activity of an expert community, including those with technical expertise (medical professionals) and those with experience-based expertise (patients). The engagement between different kinds of experts not only allows a diversity of views to go through a process of transformative criticism, enhancing objectivity, but also facilitates the development of effective treatments of mental disorders that will help patients flourish, not just survive.

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Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed

Welcome ISSF Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy

Birkbeck College, University of London

Desiderata of a Theory of Understanding for the Mental Health Encounter

In mental health encounters the meaning of certain experiences and behaviours is often contested among the involved parties. Relevant phenomena include voices (auditory hallucinations), unusual beliefs (delusions), and loss of control over one’s thoughts and actions (passivity phenomena). Typically, one party gives an account of their experiences, while the other (e.g. a clinician or family member) contests that account. These phenomena challenge everyday understanding, as we might not know what it is like to have the experience in question, and we might fail to understand it in light of the person’s other mental states. And so, we appeal to explanatory and interpretive accounts, ranging from neuropsychological theories to psychoanalytic interpretations, and from sociological theories to philosophical analysis.

Ian Gold

Experience in Delusion

Delusions are the irrational—sometimes bizarre—beliefs that are characteristic of psychosis in psychiatric and neurological illnesses. In recent years, cognitive neuropsychiatrists have attempted to answer two fundamental questions about delusions: How are delusions formed? And why are they retained in the face of their inconsistency with other beliefs and with the evidence? The various answers to the first question universally include a role for abnormal, or “anomalous,” experiences in delusion-formation. In this talk, I review the place of experience in models of delusion and argue that theorists would be better served by omitting it from future models.


Amandine Catala

Université du Québec à Montréal


Epistemic justice and epistemic authority on autism

Autistic people often face multiple forms of epistemic injustice in many contexts, whether medical, clinical, familial, social, professional, or academic. Epistemic injustice often undermines autistic people’s epistemic authority regarding their own experience of themselves and of the world. In this talk, I identify and argue for criteria that justify epistemic authority on autism and that foster greater epistemic justice for autistic people.

Luc Faucher

Université du Québec à Montréal


Autism and Epistemic Disablement

The contrast between third- and first-personal accounts of the experiences of autistic persons has much to teach us about epistemic injustice and epistemic agency. This paper argues that bringing about greater epistemic justice for autistic people requires developing a relational account of epistemic agency. We begin by systematically identifying the many types of epistemic injustice autistic people face, specifically in connection to general assumptions regarding autistic people’s sociability or lack thereof, and by locating the source of these epistemic injustices in neuronormativity and neurotypical ignorance. We then argue that this systematic identification pushes us to construe epistemic agency as resulting from a fundamentally relational and dynamic process between an individual, others around them, and their social, cultural, or institutional environment, rather than as a fixed and inherent property of individuals. Finally, we show how our relational account of epistemic agency allows us to introduce the novel concepts of epistemic disablement and epistemic enablement. We argue that these two concepts allow us to more accurately track the mechanisms that undermine or facilitate epistemic agency, and thereby to better understand how epistemic injustice arises and to design more effective interventions to foster greater epistemic justice for autistic people.

Justin Garson

Hunter College and The Graduate Center,

City University of New York


Madness as strategy and mad resistance

I present a novel framework for reading the history of psychiatry. I suggest that we read this history not as a clash between proponents of a biological approach to madness and proponents of a psychological approach, but between those who see madness as purposive, as serving a function or goal for the individual (which I call “madness as strategy”), and those who see madness as a failure of a purpose, or as a dysfunction (“madness as dysfunction”). Additionally, I place madness as strategy in dialogue with the movement alternately known as mad pride, mad resistance, or mad activism. What is their relationship, if any? I suggest that madness as strategy can help us to articulate what mad resistance is opposed to, its foil, and that it presents us with one possible way of rethinking mad identity outside of the dysfunction framework.

Camillia Kong

Universty of Oxford

The Phenomenology and Ethics of P-Centricity in Mental Capacity Law

Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in England and Wales (MCA), persons who are not found to lack capacity are free to make one or more of their own decisions regarding their care, treatment, and financial affairs.  The liberal commitment to subjective freedom and self-determination guides statutory requirements towards persons with capacity – if one has capacity, one is free to make one’s own decision, no matter how unwise it may be (s.1(4)).  By contrast, individuals who lack capacity are subject to best interests decisions and are not necessarily granted the same freedom or right to self-determination.  This suggests two normative imperatives of autonomy and welfare that orient obligations owed to individuals within the MCA.  These imperatives not only potentially demarcate the treatment of persons depending on which side of the capacity divide they occupy, but also characterise a potential conflict within the best interests standard itself.  The MCA’s requirement that best interests decisions must consider the wishes, feelings, and values of P (or protected party) can be dismissed through an appeal to other, putatively ‘objective’ considerations of best interests, suggesting limits to the liberal commitment to subjective freedom in judicial interpretations of the best interests standard.  Cases involving significant communication barriers or longstanding / lifelong incapacity due to profound disability illustrate particularly inconsistent interpretations of how best to discharge one’s legal and ethical obligations to P within the best interests standard.  Failure to provide moral and legal clarity in terms of what is owed to P is symptomatic of two broader issues within mental capacity law.  First is a problem of normative framing, where issues of moral complexity and uncertainty are commonly treated as reducible to a conflict between the values of autonomy and paternalism.  Following on from the reductive normative framing of the MCA is the second problem of how its P-centric ethos has acquired an overly subjectivist inflection, thereby rendering unclear the import of this ethos as a way of negotiating the moral uncertainty that characterises much of best interests decision-making.  In this stark normative landscape, P-centricity in the best interests standard, and the empowerment ethos within the MCA more generally, is thought to entail a liberal commitment to subjective freedom, where the preferences of the individual are treated as paramount.

These two issues combined have led to an impoverished understanding of P-centricity as a common normative grounding for obligations to all individuals, regardless of where they sit on the capacity divide.  In this paper I want to critically examine the concept of P-centricity as a means of clarifying, enriching, and deepening our normative orientation towards persons in best interests decision-making, of which will also have implications for persons not found to lack capacity.  The meaning of a P-centric ethos is particularly important to explore in cases that involve persons who have lacked decision-making capacity all their life and/or where communication barriers make it difficult to determine their values in judicial deliberation.  Exploration of the common normative grounding across the capacity divide will help reveal that a P-centric ethos in mental capacity law is not reducible to the uncritical accession of P’s subjective wishes, and at a deeper level, involves the phenomenological and ethical stance of moral considerability and recognition respect.  This paper argues that this analytic lens can help confront and navigate the moral complexity that is intrinsic to the best interests standard and mental capacity law more generally, even as decisions are often oversimplified to the binary frame of autonomy vs. welfare.

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Peter Zachar

Auburn UniversityMontgomery

Operational Definitions, Open Concepts, and the Re-emergence of Nonspecific Psychiatric Distress

The DSM has been criticized for adopting a checklist approach to diagnosis.  In this approach, psychiatric disorders are constituted by lists of symptoms for which there are multiple ways to meet criteria and two people can be assigned the same diagnosis even though they share few symptoms in common. When the multiple ways to meet criteria criticism was first articulated, it might have been considered a bit silly, but when repeated enough it came be seen as a valid criticism.  In part, as the DSM has become more dominant, this criticism accrued some validity while still seeming a little silly to others. In this talk I will take a closer philosophical look at operational definitions and open concepts as partial and extendable in many directions.  Some of the criticisms of the criterion approach to diagnosis are not so much identifying flaws as they are describing features inherent to partial concepts.  I will describe how non-specific symptoms of distress extend beyond the partial concepts called operational definitions. Such symptoms have recently been re-emphasized in studies of psychosis risk and the factor analytic models of the psychologists.  I will briefly explore these studies and describe one implication of non-specificity, namely, that psychiatric distress is sometimes less determinate than our conceptual proclivities demand.

Natalia Washington

University of Utah


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