Psychiatry After Virtue: A Modern Practice in the Ruins

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 36 (2):170-186 (2011)
Abstract
Contemporary psychiatry maintains the myth that it is value neutral by appeal to modern medical science for both its diagnostic categories and its therapeutic interventions, leaving the impression that it relies on reason—that is to say, reason divorced from tradition—to master human nature. Such a practice has a certain way of characterizing and defining humanity's lapses from acceptable human behavior—a lapse from human being. The modern practice of psychiatry applies a particular notion (largely influenced by Enlightenment ideals) of scientific instrumentation to the human person in order to diagnose the ailment and manufacture a corresponding treatment in keeping with a hidden conception of human biological flourishing. This covert vision is an impoverished (and possibly dangerous) one. As much as the practice of psychiatry is constrained by the goals of the dominant moral tradition of our day, it becomes a tool (or technique) for achieving the transient and partial ends of modern individualism. Given this truncated view of human nature and human end, modern psychiatry fails to attend comprehensively to the unity of a life, missing altogether the essential relevance of character formation, and thereby forfeiting excellence in human flourishing
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