Does the philosophy of psychiatry need metaphysics? – podcasts available

Posted by Rachel Cooper

“Does philosophy of psychiatry need metaphysics?” was a conference held in Lancaster in June 2016 (with sponsorship from the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, and Lancaster University). It’s taken a while, but podcasts of the talks have now been edited and are available below. In some cases the introductions to the talks are quite hard to hear on the podcasts – but keep listening because the talks themselves are fine.

I organized the conference because it seemed to me that philosophers of psychiatry spend a lot of time writing and arguing about metaphysics. Many recent books in the philosophy of psychiatry have presupposed some metaphysical framework or other. Peter Zachar’s important book, A Metaphysics for Psychopathology (2014), explicitly sets out to develop a metaphysical framework, and argues for a pragmatist approach. Tim Thornton’s Essential Philosophy of Psychiatry (2007) adopts a McDowellian view. My Classifying Madness (2005) assumed a scientific realism. In Mind, Meaning and Mental Disorder (1996) Jonathan Hill and Derek Bolton argue from a Wittgensteinian perspective. In all of these works, discussions of metaphysics play a key role.

Although philosophers of psychiatry have spent a lot of time disagreeing on questions of basic metaphysics, it wasn’t clear to me how much useful work the metaphysical discussions were really doing. The conference brought together Derek Bolton, Tim Thornton, Peter Zachar and me. Each of us considered whether our key claims about psychiatry and mental disorder could have been made without making use of the controversial metaphysical assumptions that we in fact employed in our books. John O’Neill also gave a commentary.

You can get the podcasts here:

Peter Zachar (University of Auburn at Montgomery) ‘Empiricism, pragmatist metaphysics and the philosophy of psychiatry’

Rachel Cooper (University of Lancaster) ‘Classification: Realism versus pragmatism’

Derek Bolton (Kings College London & Institute for Psychiatry) ‘Localising metaphysics: continuities with science and culture’

Tim Thornton (University of Central Lancashire) ‘The manifest metaphysics of Essential Philosophy of Psychiatry’

The 2017 volume of the Bulletin of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry may also be of interest. It’s devoted to discussion of Peter Zachar’s book, and includes commentaries by me and Tim Thornton (my commentary is a written version of my conference talk).

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