What Is Mental Illness?

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.

- Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Podcast of the Day

Are mental disorders like other illnesses? Can they be adequately categorised in relation to a set of symptoms? Steven E. Hyman discusses some philosophical questions that arise from the widely-used DSM-5 with David Edmonds.

Listen to Steven Hyman on Categorising Mental Disorders

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

I’ve recently been following the controversies about revisions to the psychiatric definition of depression.  I’ve also been teaching a graduate seminar on Michel Foucault, beginning with a reading of his “History of Madness.”  This massive volume tries to discover the origins of modern psychiatric practice and raises questions about its meaning and validity.  The debate over depression is an excellent test case for Foucault’s critique.

At the center of that critique is Foucault’s claim that modern psychiatry, while purporting to be grounded in scientific truths, is primarily a system of moral judgments. “What we call psychiatric practice,” he says, “is a certain moral tactic . . . covered over by the myths of positivism.”  Indeed, what psychiatry presents as the “liberation of the mad” (from mental illness) is in fact a “gigantic moral imprisonment.”...

Continue reading Gary Gutting's article: Depression and the Limits of Psychiatry

Further Reading

The central philosophical debate over mental illness is not about its existence, but rather over how to define it, and whether it can be given a scientific or objective definition, or whether normative and subjective elements are essential to our concept of mental illness. One desideratum for a successful definition of mental illness is that it will settle debates over particular purported mental illnesses...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Mental Illness by Christian Perring

Related Topics

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