Mental Disorders Involve Limits on Control, not Extreme Preferences

In Matt King & Joshua May (eds.), Agency in Mental Disorder: Philosophical Dimensions. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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According to a standard picture of agency, a person’s actions always reflect what they most desire, and many theorists extend this model to mental illness. In this chapter, I pin down exactly where this “volitional” view goes wrong. The key is to recognize that human motivational architecture involves a regulatory control structure: we have both spontaneous states (e.g., automatically-elicited thoughts and action tendencies, etc.) as well as regulatory mechanisms that allow us to suppress or modulate these spontaneous states. Our regulatory abilities, however, are bounded. Mental illnesses, I argue, arise precisely where these bounds are reached, thus allowing inappropriate spontaneous states to regularly manifest in thought and action. I conclude that the volitional view of mental illness is wrong: when a person with mental illness reaches the limits of control, what they do often does not reflect what they most prefer.



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Chandra Sripada
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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References found in this work

Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions.J. R. Stroop - 1935 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 18 (6):643.
Motivation and agency.Alfred R. Mele - 2003 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The Divided Self, An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness.R. D. Laing - 1960 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 15 (3):405-405.

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