Values and the singular aims of idiographic inquiry

In Raffaele De Luca Picione, Jensine Nedergaard, Maria Francesca Freda & Sergio Salvatore (eds.), Idiographic Approach to Health. Information Age Publishing (2018)

Tim Thornton
University of Central Lancashire
In response to the concern that criteriological psychiatric diagnosis, based on the DSM and ICD classifications, pigeon-holes patients, there have been calls for it to be augmented by an idiographic formulation [IDGA Workgroup, WPA 2003]. I have argued elsewhere that this is a mistake [Thornton 2008a, 2008b, 2010]. Looking back to its original proponent Wilhelm Windelband yields no clear account of the contrast between idiographic and nomothetic from Jaspers’ account of understanding an idea of idiographic judgement based on the contrast between singular and general causal relations also fails. I argue, however, that Windelband does provide a helpful clue in his remark that ‘every interest and judgement, every ascription of human value is based upon the singular and the unique... Our sense of values and all of our axiological sentiments are grounded in the uniqueness and incomparability of their object’ [Windelband 1980: 182]. This suggests a role for the idiographic not as the content of a particular kind of judgement but rather as characterising its aim. I argue that this connects to the issue of the generalisability of small scale qualitative social science research and to the critique of ‘looking away’ in moral philosophy.
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