The risk that neurogenetic approaches may inflate the psychiatric concept of disease and how to cope with it

Poiesis and Praxis 6 (1-2):79-91 (2008)
Currently, there is a growing interest in combining genetic information with physiological data measured by functional neuroimaging to investigate the underpinnings of psychiatric disorders. The first part of this paper describes this trend and provides some reflections on its chances and limitations. In the second part, a thought experiment using a commonsense definition of psychiatric disorders is invoked in order to show how information from this kind of research could be used and potentially abused to invent new mental illnesses. It is then argued why an inference to the best explanation could provide an antidote to such attempts. The conclusion emphasises why normative criteria, such as those used to define disorders, cannot be derived from descriptive empirical results alone. While the etiology of some psychiatric diseases may be purely organic, there are many other cases where the psychiatric symptoms and the associated genotypes and phenotypes have an essentially and irreducibly external meaning that is derived from social and political factors. A limited perspective on the genes and brain of man carries the risk that psychiatry may increasingly treat the effects of other domains, although social and political solutions would be more appropriate
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DOI 10.1007/s10202-008-0066-y
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