More Aristotle, Less DSM: The Ontology of Mental Disorders in Constructivist Perspective

Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 15 (3):211-225 (2008)
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Abstract

This work begins by proposing the need for exploring the mode of being of mental disorders. It is a philosophical study in an Aristotelian perspective, with special emphasis on the anthropological–cultural dimension. It is difficult for such an inquiry to be carried out from within psychiatry or clinical psychology, committed as these fields are to their own logic and practical conditions. The issues are, in any case, more ontological than strictly clinical in nature. We therefore turn to Aristotle, and specifically his doctrine of the four “causes,” to flesh out the social and cultural dimensions of mental disorders. In accordance with the present analysis, the material cause of disorders would be found in the contingencies of life; the formal cause would pertain primarily to the way clinical conditions themselves can serve as models of ‘being ill’ in our society; the efficient cause would correspond to the patients themselves, understood as active (albeit less than fully conscious) agents as well as to the pharmaceutical industry and the mass media; the final cause would be found in different adaptive functions served by the disorder. We conclude that the “mode of being” of most (if not all) mental disorders—in particular, their status as mental disorders—can often have more to do with cultural forms than with biological factors.

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