The Philosophy of Mental Illness is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines views and methods from the philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and moral philosophy in order to analyze the nature of mental illness. Philosophers of mental illness are concerned with examining the ontological, epistemological, and normative issues arising from varying conceptions of mental illness.
Central questions within the philosophy of mental illness include: whether the concept of a mental illness can be given a scientifically adequate, value-free, specification; whether mental illnesses should be understood as a form of distinctly mental dysfunction, and whether mental illnesses are best identified as discrete mental entities with clear inclusion/exclusion criteria or as points along a continuum between the normal and the ill. Philosophers critical of the concept of mental illness argue that it is not possible to give a value-neutral specification of mental illnesses. They argue that that our concept of mental illnesses is often used to disguise the ways in which mental illness categories enforce pre-existing norms and power relations. Questions remain about the relationship between the role that values play within the concept of mental illness and how those values relate to concepts of illness more generally. Philosophers who consider themselves a part of the neurodiversity movement claim that our concept of mental illness should be revised to reflect the diverse forms of cognition that humans are capable of without stigmatizing individuals that are statistically non-normal.
Philosophical discussions of mental illness fall into three families. First, there are topics that arise when we treat psychiatry as a special science and deal with it using the methods and concepts of philosophy of science. This includes discussion of such issues as explanation, reduction and classification. Second, there are conceptual issues that arise when we try to understand the very idea of mental illness and its ethical and experiential dimensions. Third, there are interactions between psychopathology and the philosophy of mind; philosophers have used clinical phenomena to illuminate issues in the philosophy of mind, and philosophical findings to try to understand mental illness. This entry will discuss issues in the philosophy of science and philosophy of mind that pertain to psychiatry.
Psychiatry involves theories of the mind, theories of the causes of mental disorders, classification schemes for those disorders, research about the disorders, proven treatments and research into new treatments, and a number of professions whose job it is to work with or on behalf of people with mental disorders. The philosophical study of psychiatry discusses conceptual, ethical, metaphysical, social, and epistemological issues that arise in all these aspects of psychiatry. Central to this study is the nature of mental illness.
Narrow mental content is a kind of mental content that does not depend on an individual's environment. Narrow content contrasts with “broad” or “wide” content, which depends on features of the individual's environment as well as on features of the individual. It is controversial whether there is any such thing as narrow content. Assuming that there is, it is also controversial what sort of content it is, what its relation to ordinary or “broad” content is, and how it is determined by the individual's intrinsic properties.
The English verb ‘reduce’, derives from the Latin ‘reducere’, whose literal meaning ‘to bring back’, informs its metaphorical use in philosophy. If one asserts that the mental reduces to the physical, that heat reduces to kinetic molecular energy, or that one theory reduces to another theory, one implies that in some relevant sense the reduced theory can be brought back to the reducing theory, the mental can be brought back to the physical, or heat can be brought back to molecular kinetic energy. The term ‘reduction’ as used in philosophy expresses the idea that if an entity x reduces to an entity y then y is in a sense prior to x, is more basic than x, is such that x fully depends upon it or is constituted by it. Saying that x reduces to y typically implies that x is nothing more than y or nothing over and above y.