Solving the self-illness ambiguity: the case for construction over discovery

Philosophical Explorations 25 (3):294-313 (2022)
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Psychiatric patients sometimes ask where to draw the line between who they are – their selves – and their mental illness. This problem is referred to as the self-illness ambiguity in the literature; it has been argued that solving said ambiguity is a crucial part of psychiatric treatment. I distinguish a Realist Solution from a Constructivist one. The former requires finding a supposedly pre-existing border, in the psychiatric patient’s mental life, between that which belongs to the self and that which belongs to the mental illness. I argue that no such border exists, and that attempts to find it might even render the felt ambiguity worse. Instead, any solution must be constructivist; the patient (and others) should deliberate and discuss what to identify with or not. I further argue that psychiatric patients need not see their mental illness as wholly distinct from themselves to avoid ‘identifying with their diagnoses' in a problematic way. Finally, we can excuse problematic behaviour by mentally ill people – in fact, we can do so in a more nuanced and constructive way – while rejecting the view that the mental illness is wholly distinct from the patient’s self.

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Sofia Jeppsson
Umeå University

Citations of this work

A Wide-Enough Range of ‘Test Environments’ for Psychiatric Disabilities.Sofia Jeppsson - 2023 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 94:39-53.

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Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Creating the Kingdom of Ends.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Freedom Within Reason.Susan R. Wolf - 1990 - New York: Oup Usa.
Free agency.Gary Watson - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (April):205-20.

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