Thoughts and feelings and things: A new psychiatric epistemology

Epistemology — the study of knowledge — is a philosophical discipline with close ties to psychiatry. When epistemologists address specific questions about how knowledge is actually realized by human beings, their philosophy must be informed by empirical studies of the sort psychiatrists now take up in a variety of forms. As this paper describes, psychiatrists can likewise improve their understanding of human psychology through a deeper appreciation of philosophical analysis in epistemology.The aim of this article is to introduce a unifying framework within which the experience from different approaches to psychiatry — (1) the conceptual schemas of cognitive psychiatry, (2) the mental structures of psychoanalytic psychiatry, (3) the categorical forms of existential psychiatry, and (4) the neural pathways of biological psychiatry — can all be applied productively to the central question of epistemology. By establishing a broad understanding of the problem of knowledge, this new view of epistemology is developed within the idiom of each psychiatric approach. In addressing themselves to a unitary problem, these diverse psychiatric approaches are themselves revealed, not as competing points of view, but as complementary views of a single subject. The result is a new epistemology that can not only bring the insights of psychiatry to philosophy, but can also contribute to the care of patients when psychiatrists bring this broader view to their clinical work.
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