Free will and mental disorder: Exploring the relationship

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 31 (6):429-443 (2010)


A link between mental disorder and freedom is clearly present in the introduction of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). It mentions “an important loss of freedom” as one of the possible defining features of mental disorder. Meanwhile, it remains unclear how “an important loss of freedom” should be understood. In order to get a clearer view on the relationship between mental disorder and (a loss of) freedom, in this article, I will explore the link between mental disorder and free will. I examine two domains in which a connection between mental disorder and free will is present: the philosophy of free will and forensic psychiatry. As it turns out, philosophers of free will frequently refer to mental disorders as conditions that compromise free will and reduce moral responsibility. In addition, in forensic psychiatry, the rationale for the assessment of criminal responsibility is often explained by referring to the fact that mental disorders can compromise free will. Yet, in both domains, it remains unclear in what way free will is compromised by mental disorders. Based on the philosophical debate, I discuss three senses of free will and explore their relevance to mental disorders. I conclude that in order to further clarify the relationship between free will and mental disorder, the accounts of people who have actually experienced the impact of a mental disorder should be included in future research

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References found in this work

Freedom and Resentment.Peter Strawson - 1962 - Proceedings of the British Academy 48:187-211.
Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.Harry Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
An Essay on Free Will.Peter Van Inwagen - 1983 - Oxford University Press.
The Significance of Free Will.Robert Kane - 1996 - Oxford University Press USA.
Living Without Free Will.Derk Pereboom - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.

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Citations of this work

Diminishing and Enhancing Free Will.Walter Glannon - 2011 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 2 (3):15-26.
Lived Autonomy and Chronic Mental Illness: A Phenomenological Approach.Jann E. Schlimme - 2012 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 33 (6):387-404.
Autonomy, Free Will, and a Rational Life-Plan: A Practical Perspective.Gerben Meynen & Guy Widdershoven - 2013 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 4 (4):64-65.

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