There is a lot of conceptual engineering going on in medical research. I substantiate this claim with two examples, the medical debate about cancer classification and about obesity as a disease I also argue that the proper target of conceptual engineering in medical research are experts’ conceptions. These are explicitly written down in documents and guidelines, and they bear on research and policies. In the second part of the chapter, I propose an externalist framework in which conceptions have both the (...) explanatory power of psychological concepts and that of semantic concepts. It is likely, however, that human activities and practices distinct from medical research, and regulated by different practices and epistemic rules, call for different targets for conceptual engineering. I conclude with indicating an open agenda of problems for philosophers of medicine interested in conceptual engineering. (shrink)
In this paper we focus on some new normativist positions and compare them with traditional ones. In so doing, we claim that if normative judgments are involved in determining whether a condition is a disease only in the sense identified by new normativisms, then disease is normative only in a weak sense, which must be distinguished from the strong sense advocated by traditional normativisms. Specifically, we argue that weak and strong normativity are different to the point that one ‘normativist’ label (...) ceases to be appropriate for the whole range of positions. If values and norms are not explicit components of the concept of disease, but only intervene in other explanatory roles, then the concept of disease is no more value-laden than many other scientific concepts, or even any other scientific concept. We call the newly identified position “value-conscious naturalism” about disease, and point to some of its theoretical and practical advantages. (shrink)
In the ongoing pandemic, death statistics influence people’s feelings and government policy. But when does COVID-19 qualify as the cause of death? As philosophers of medicine interested in conceptual clarification, we address the question by analyzing the World Health Organization’s rules for the certification of death. We show that for COVID-19, WHO rules take into account both facts and values.
Advanced medical imaging, such as CT, fMRI and PET, has undergone enormous progress in recent years, both in accuracy and utilization. Such techniques often bring with them an illusion of immediacy, the idea that the body and its diseases can be directly inspected. In this paper we target this illusion and address the issue of the reliability of advanced imaging tests as knowledge procedures, taking positron emission tomography in oncology as paradigmatic case study. After individuating a suitable notion of reliability, (...) we argue that PET is a highly theory-laden and non-immediate knowledge procedure, in spite of the photographic-like quality of the images it delivers; the diagnostic conclusions based on the interpretation of PET images are population-dependent; PET images require interpretation, which is inherently observer-dependent and therefore variable. We conclude with a three-step methodological proposal for enhancing the reliability of advanced medical imaging. (shrink)
The general concept of mental disorder specified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is definitional in character: a mental disorder might be identified with a harmful dysfunction. The manual also contains the explicit claim that each individual mental disorder should meet the requirements posed by the definition. The aim of this article is two-fold. First, we shall analyze the definition of the superordinate concept of mental disorder to better understand what necessary criteria actually (...) characterize such a concept. Second, we shall consider the concepts of some individual mental disorders and show that they are in tension with the definition of the superordinate concept, taking pyromania and narcissistic personality disorder as case studies. Our main point is that an unexplained and not-operationalized dysfunction requirement that is included in the general definition, while being systematically violated by the diagnostic criteria of specific mental disorders, is a logical error. Then, either we unpack and operationalize the dysfunction requirement, and include explicit diagnostic criteria that can actually meet it, or we simply drop it. (shrink)
The general definition of mental disorder stated in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders seems to identify a mental disorder with a harmful dysfunction. However, the presence of distress or disability, which may be bracketed as the presence of harm, is taken to be merely usual, and thus not a necessary requirement: a mental disorder can be diagnosed as such even if there is no harm at all. In this paper, we focus on the (...) harm requirement. First, we clarify what it means to say that the harm requirement is not necessary for defining the general concept of mental disorder. In this respect, we briefly examine the two components of harm, distress and disability, and then trace a distinction between mental disorder tokens and mental disorder types. Second, we argue that the decision not to regard the harm requirement as a necessary criterion for mental disorder is tenable for a number of practical and theoretical reasons, some pertaining to conceptual issues surrounding the two components of harm and others pertaining to the problem of false negatives and the status of psychiatry vis-à-vis somatic medicine. However, we believe that the harm requirement can be maintained among the specific diagnostic criteria of certain individual mental disorders. More precisely, we argue that insofar as the harm requirement is needed among the specific diagnostic criteria of certain individual mental disorders, it should be unpacked and clarified. (shrink)
Are concepts stable entities, unchanged from context to context? Or rather are they context-dependent structures, created on the fly? We argue that this does not constitute a genuine dilemma. Our main thesis is that the more a pattern of features is general and shared, the more it qualifies as a concept. Contextualists have not shown that conceptual structures lack a stable, general core, acting as an attractor on idiosyncratic information. What they have done instead is to give a contribution to (...) the comprehension of how conceptual structure organized around such a stable core can produce contextually appropriate representations on demand. (shrink)
The distinction between concept and conception has been widely debated in political philosophy, whereas in the philosophy of psychology is frequently used, but rarely focused on. This paper aims at filling in this lacuna. I claim that far from being explanatorily idle, the distinction makes it possible to provide an adequate description of phenomena such as genuine disagreement, and concept contestation, which would otherwise remain implausibly puzzling. I illustrate and assess three accounts of the concept-conception distinction. Finally I propose a (...) social externalist account, which relies on deference to experts, and builds on Tyler Burge’s ideas of many decades ago. The debate on concepts and conceptions thus shows a connection with the increasing research work on experts and expertise in psychology and social epistemology. (shrink)
Philosophers of medicine have formulated different accounts of the concept of disease. Which concept of disease one assumes has implications for what conditions count as diseases and, by extension, who may be regarded as having a disease and for who may be accorded the social privileges and personal responsibilities associated with being sick. In this article, we consider an ideal diagnostic test for coronavirus disease 2019 infection with respect to four groups of people—positive and asymptomatic; positive and symptomatic; negative; and (...) untested—and show how different concepts of disease impact on the disease and sickness judgements for these groups. The suggestion is that sickness judgements and social measures akin to those experienced during the current COVID-19 outbreak presuppose a concept of disease containing social harm as a component. We indicate the problems that arise when adopting this kind of disease concept beyond a state of emergency. (shrink)
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included the Social Communication Disorder as a new mental disorder characterized by deficits in pragmatic abilities. Although the introduction of SPCD in the psychiatry nosography depended on a variety of reasons—including bridging a nosological gap in the macro-category of Communication Disorders—in the last few years researchers have identified major issues in such revision. For instance, the symptomatology of SPCD is notably close to that of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This (...) opens up the possibility that individuals with very similar symptoms can be diagnosed differently and receive different clinical treatments and social support. The aim of this paper is to review recent debates on SPCD, particularly as regards its independence from ASD. In the first part, we outline the major aspects of the DSM-5 nosological revision involving ASD and SPCD. In the second part, we focus on the validity and reliability of SPCD. First, we analyze literature on three potential validators of SPCD, i.e., etiology, response to treatment, and measurability. Then, we turn to reliability issues connected with the introduction of the grandfather clause and the use of the concepts of spectrum and threshold in the definition of ASD. In the conclusion, we evaluate whether SPCD could play any role in contemporary psychiatry other than that of an independent mental disorder and discuss the role that non-epistemic factors could play in the delineation of the future psychiatry nosography. (shrink)
This is the first book to explore the epistemology and ethics of advanced imaging tests, in order to improve the critical understanding of the nature of knowledge they provide and the practical consequences of their utilization in healthcare. Advanced medical imaging tests, such as PET and MRI, have gained center stage in medical research and in patients’ care. They also increasingly raise questions that pertain to philosophy: What is required to be an expert in reading images? How are standards for (...) interpretation to be fixed? Is there a problem of overutilization of such tests? How should uncertainty be communicated to patients? How to cope with incidental findings? This book is of interest and importance to scholars of philosophy of medicine at all levels, from undergraduates to researchers, to medical researchers and practitioners (radiologists and nuclear physicians) interested in a critical appraisal of the methodology of their discipline and in the ethical principles and consequences of their work. -/- . (shrink)
This commentary focuses on Machery's eliminativist claim, that ought to be eliminated from the theoretical vocabulary of psychology because it fails to denote a natural kind. I argue for the more traditional view that concepts are a functional kind, which provides the simplest account of the empirical evidence discussed by Machery.
Most of the epidemiological models of the Covid-19 pandemic contain the reproduction number as a parameter. In this article we focus on some shortcomings regarding its role in driving health policies and political decisions. First, we summarize what R is and what it is used for. Second, we introduce a three-question matrix for the evaluation of any construct or parameter within a model. We then review the main literature about R to highlight some of its shortcomings and apply to them (...) our three-question matrix. Finally, we argue that these shortcomings are important for an epistemic and political evaluation of R. (shrink)
At present, psychiatric disorders are characterized descriptively, as the standard within the scientific community for communication and, to a certain extent, for diagnosis, is the DSM, now at its fifth edition. The main reasons for descriptivism are the aim of achieving reliability of diagnosis and improving communication in a situation of theoretical disagreement, and the Ignorance argument, which starts with acknowledgment of the relative failure of the project of finding biomarkers for most mental disorders. Descriptivism has also the advantage of (...) capturing the phenomenology of mental disorders, which appears to be essential for diagnosis, though not exhaustive of the nature of the disease. I argue that if we rely on the distinction between conceptions (procedures of identification) and concepts (reference-fixing representations), which was introduced in the philosophical debate on the nature of concepts, we may understand a limited but valid role for descriptive characterizations, and reply to common objections addressed by those who advocate a theoretically informed approach to nosology. (shrink)
We raise a problem of applicability of RCTs to validate nuclear diagnostic imaging tests. In spite of the wide application of PET and other similar techniques that use radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic purposes, RCT-based evidence on their validity is sparse. We claim that this is due to a general conceptual problem that we call Prevalence of Treatment, which arises in connection with designing RCTs for testing any diagnostic procedure in the present context of medical research, and is particularly apparent in this (...) case. We also identify three practical reasons why RCTs do not qualify as the best option for PET validation, which have to do with specific characteristics of nuclear diagnostic imaging, and of radiopharmaceuticals. The paper is meant to contribute both to the philosophical discussion on the EBM hierarchy of evidence, and on the specific debate on radiopharmaceuticals in nuclear medicine. (shrink)
Health care systems can positively influence our personal decision-making and health-related behavior only if we trust them. I propose a conceptual analysis of the trust relation between the public and a healthcare system, drawing from healthcare studies and philosophical proposals. In my account, the trust relation is based on an epistemic component, epistemic authority, and on a value component, the benevolence of the healthcare system. I argue that it is also modified by the vulnerability of the public on healthcare matters, (...) and by the system’s credibility. I apply my proposed analysis of public trust in health care systems to the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, a tendency to question vaccine policies, and to seek alternative vaccine schedules or to refuse vaccination. Understanding the role of trust and its components can be key to understanding the phenomenon. (shrink)
Abstract: At present, psychiatric disorders are characterized descriptively, as the standard within the scientific community for communication and, to a cer- tain extent, for diagnosis, is the DSM, now at its fifth edition. The main rea- sons for descriptivism are the aim of achieving reliability of diagnosis and improving communication in a situation of theoretical disagreement, and the Ignorance argument, which starts with acknowledgment of the relative fail- ure of the project of finding biomarkers for most mental disorders. Descrip- tivism (...) has also the advantage of capturing the phenomenology of mental dis- orders, which appears to be essential for diagnosis, though not exhaustive of the nature of the disease. I argue that if we rely on the distinction between conceptions (procedures of identification) and concepts (reference-fixing representations), which was introduced in the philosophical debate on the nature of concepts, we may understand a limited but valid role for descrip- tive characterizations, and reply to common objections addressed by those who advocate a theoretically informed approach to nosology. (shrink)
Though the divide between reason-based and causal-explanatory approaches in psychiatry and psychopathology is old and deeply rooted, current trends involving multi-factorial explanatory models and evidence-based approaches to interpersonal psychotherapy, show that it has already been implicitly bridged. These trends require a philosophical reconsideration of how reasons can be causes. This paper contributes to that trajectory by arguing that Donald Davidson’s classic paradigm of 1963 is still a valid option.
The Research Domani Criteria framework (RdoC) encourages research on specific impairments present across traditional nosological categories and suggests a list of biological and behavioral measures for assessing them. After a description of RdoC, in this article we focus on impairments of the ability of understanding others, specifically in Theory of Mind and empathy. We illustrate recent evidence on brain anomalies correlating with these deficits in Schizophrenia, Addiction Disorders and Mood Disorders populations. In the last section, we zoom out and consider (...) this kind of research vis-à-vis the objection of being reductionistic that is, in favoring mechanistic accounts of mental disorders. We argue that metaphysical reductionism and explanatory reductionism are not conceptually entailed by the RdoC framework. (shrink)
Riassunto: In questo contributo analizzeremo il criterio del danno, presente nella definizione generale di disturbo mentale del DSM. La questione ha rilevanza sia da un punto di vista filosofico, perché il danno è una componente normativa e valoriale, non oggettiva, sia da un punto di vista clinico, perché chi ha difeso il criterio del danno ha spesso sostenuto che in sua assenza avremmo troppi falsi positivi. Infine, ha importanza dal punto di vista socio-sanitario in relazione al rapporto tra la psichiatria (...) e la medicina non psichiatrica, nello specifico tra il DSM e l’ICD. Sosterremo che ci sono buone ragioni per non mantenere il danno come criterio necessario nella definizione generale del disturbo mentale. Dopo una breve introduzione, forniremo una panoramica storica sul ruolo del criterio del danno nelle varie edizioni del DSM. Successivamente si illustrerà la principale obiezione contro l’inclusione del criterio del danno nella definizione generale di disturbo mentale, ossia il problema dei falsi negativi, per poi presentare e discutere ulteriori ragioni – medico-pratiche e concettuali – che depongono a sfavore dell’attribuzione di un forte peso al criterio del danno. In sede conclusiva ribadiamo come la decisione presa dalla task force del DSM-5 di escludere il criterio del danno dalla definizione generale di disturbo mentale debba essere sostenuta. Parole chiave: Danno; Disabilità; Disagio; Disturbo mentale; DSM “Harm” as Criterion for the Definition of Mental Disease in DSM. Some Epistemological Reflections: In this paper, we analyse the harm requirement in the general definition of mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. This issue has both philosophical and clinical relevance: on the one hand the harm requirement is a normative, value-laden, non-objective component in the definition of mental disorder; on the other hand, the harm requirement has often been defended on the grounds that it prevents an increase in false positives. The issue is also important in assessing the relationship between psychiatry and somatic medicine, more precisely, between the DSM and the International Classification of Diseases. We argue that there are good reasons not to maintain the harm requirement in the general definition of mental disorder. After a brief introduction, we overview the history of the harm requirement across the various editions of the DSM. Then, we examine the main objection to the inclusion of the harm requirement in the general definition of mental disorder, that is, the problem of false negatives, and also present several other points – both practical and conceptual – that help demonstrate why the harm requirement is inadequate as a definiens of mental disorder. To conclude, we stress that the decision of the DSM-5 task force not to regard the harm requirement as a necessary component of mental disorder should be endorsed. Keywords: Harm; Disability, Distress; Mental Disorder; DSM. (shrink)
Le controversie nosologiche in psichiatria siano orientate da ragioni sia epistemiche che non epistemiche, da questioni di evidenza ma anche di etica e sociologia della scienza, data la presenza di vari programmi di ricerca, di metodologie e anche di agenti differenti che si focalizzano sul problema del disturbo mentale. I due casi qui brevemente considerati, quello della Disposofobia e quello del Disturbo di personalità narcisistica mostrano, assieme al ruolo dell’evidenza empirica, da un lato il peso delle ragioni etiche dei gruppi (...) di pazienti e di quelle culturali della società allargata, dall’altro le dinamiche del consenso tra esperti. Che i disturbi mentali siano o non siano generi naturali, la loro classificazione è un processo razionale complesso che comprende norme e deviazioni dalle norme di diverso tipo. (shrink)
Classical philosophical notions, such as conceptual truth, analyticity, and a priori knowledge, have recently re-entered the mainstream philosophical debate, after fifty years of depreciation. This paper illustrates how such notions are reintroduced and discussed in a current debate on the nature of concepts, along with the idea that a concept is individuated by an implicit definition. This traditional Neopositivist device has recently been redeployed by writers such as Peacocke, Horwich, and Boghossian. Implicit definitions raise a variety of interesting issues, from (...) semantics to epistemology: how can they succeed in fixing a concept’s semantic property, if not by convention? are they analytic, in the Quinean sense? Do they provide with a priori knowledge? Which constraints are appropriate, for some formulation genuinely to pick up the semantic property of a concept?. (shrink)
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it especially visible that mortality data are a key component of epidemiological models, being a single indicator that provides information about various health aspects, such as disease prevalence and effectiveness of interventions, and thus enabling predictions on many fronts. In this paper we illustrate the interrelation between facts and values in death statistics, by analyzing the rules for death certification issued by the World Health Organization. We show how the notion of the underlying cause of (...) death can change in view of public health goals. This brings us to a general point about how non-epistemic factors, such as values and goals, are reflected in the choice of different measures in epidemiological models. We finally argue that this analysis is not only relevant from a theoretical point of view but also has important practical consequences. (shrink)
Disagreement among experts is a central topic in social epistemology. What should an expert do when confronted with the different opinion of an epistemic peer? Possible answers include the steadfast view, the abstemious view, and moderate conciliatory views, which specify criteria for belief change when a peer’s different opinion is encountered. The practice of Delphi techniques in healthcare, medicine, and social sciences provides a real-life case study of expert disagreement, where disagreement is gradually transformed into consensus. An analysis of Delphi (...) shows that moderate conciliatory views are descriptively more adequate than rival views. However, it also casts doubt on whether the debate in social epistemology is explanatory relevant vis-à-vis real life cases of expert disagreement, where consensus replaces truth, and acceptance is more explanatorily relevant than belief. (shrink)
Recently, there has been increasing interest in methodological aspects of advanced imaging, including the role of guidelines, recommendations, and experts’ consensus, the practice of self-referral, and the risk of diagnostic procedure overuse. In a recent Delphi study of the European Association for Nuclear Medicine (EANM), panelists were asked to give their opinion on 47 scientific questions about imaging in prostate cancer. Nine additional questions exploring the experts’ attitudes and opinions relating to the procedure of consensus building itself were also included. (...) The purpose was to provide insights into the mechanism of recommendation choice and consensus building as seen from the experts’ point of view. Results: Regarding the factors likely to influence the willingness to refer a patient for imaging, the most voted were incorporation into guidelines and data from scientific literature, while personal experience and personal relationship were chosen by a small minority. Regarding the recommendations more relevant to prescribe an imaging procedure, it resulted the incorporation into guidelines promoted by scientific societies (59% of votes); these guidelines also resulted the more trusted. With respect to patients’ preferences considered when prescribing an imaging procedure, the most voted was accuracy, resulted more important than easy access and time to access to the procedure. The majority of the experts expressed the opinion that there is a scarce use of imaging procedures in prostate cancer. With respect to the most relevant factor to build consensus, it resulted the transparency of the process (52% of votes), followed by multidisciplinarity of contributors. The main obstacle to incorporation of modern imaging procedures into guidelines resulted the lack of primary literature on clinical impact. Conclusions: Firstly, the panelists portray themselves as having Evidence-Based Medicine oriented and scientifically inclined attitudes and preferences. Secondly, guidelines and recommendations from scientific societies, especially clinical ones, are positively taken into account as factors influencing decisions, but panelists tend to consider their own appraisal of the scientific literature as more relevant. Thirdly, in respect of overuse, panelists do not think that advanced diagnostic procedures are overutilized in the specific case of Prostate Cancer, but rather they are underutilized. (shrink)
Una sintetica introduzione alle principali questioni etiche e filosofiche riguardanti la comunicazione sanitaria: la comunicazione fra medico e paziente e quella fra istituzioni, sanitari e cittadini. In uno scenario in cui autonomia e consenso della persona sono sempre più rilevanti nelle scelte di cura e di tutela della salute, l’autrice delinea un quadro concettuale aggiornato per affrontare temi problematici come la comunicazione della diagnosi, l’impostazione delle campagne di prevenzione e salute pubblica, il ruolo dei medici come esperti nei media. -/- (...) Indice del volume: Introduzione. - I. Concetti per la bioetica. - II. La comunicazione tra medico e paziente. - 3. La comunicazione delle istituzioni sanitarie. - IV. Gli esperti e i media nella comunicazione della salute. - Riferimenti bibliografici. - Indice analitico. -/- . (shrink)
I argue that a concept is applied correctly when it is applied to the kind of things it is the concept of. Correctness as successful kind-tracking is fulfilling an externally and naturalistically individuated standard. And the normative aspect of concept-application so characterized depends on the relational (non-individualistic) feature of conceptual content. I defend this view against two objections. The first is that norms should provide justifications for action, and the second involves a version of the thesis of indeterminacy of reference.
This paper explores the possibility of resisting meaning scepticism – the thesis that there are many alternative incompatible assignments of reference to each of our terms - by appealing to the idea that the nature of reference is to maximize knowledge. If the reference relation is a knowledge maximizing-relation, then some candidate referents are privileged among the others - i.e., those referents we are in a position to know about – and a positive reason against meaning scepticism is thus individuated. (...) A knowledge-maximizing principle on the nature of reference was proposed by Williamson in a recent paper (Williamson 2005). According to Williamson, such a principle would count as a defeasible reason for thinking that most of our beliefs tend to be true. My paper reverses Williamson’s dialectic, and argues that reference is knowledge-maximizing from the premise that most of our beliefs tend to be true. (shrink)
The concept of moralisation of health behaviours was introduced in social psychology to describe the attribution of moral properties to habits and conditions like smoking or being a vegetarian. Moral properties are powerful motivators for people and institutions, as they may trigger blame, stigma, and appraisal, as well as the polarisation of interest and scientific hype. Here I extend the concept and illustrate how medicines and treatments can be seen as if they had moral properties, too, when they come to (...) be regarded as good or bad in the moral sense, and not just in the instrumental sense of benefiting or harming health. I propose the hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) controversy of 2020 as an example of moralisation of a medicine. HCQ and chloroquine are anti-malarial drugs, whose off-label use for Covid-19 was hotly discussed in the early months of the pandemic, both in the media and within the scientific community, and eventually dismissed when robust evidence came out. The point of the paper is to show that moralisation of health products and treatments may influence individual and institutional decisions in significant ways, and also affect research. For these reasons, it should be carefully monitored and critically assessed. (shrink)
Psychiatry and the sciences of mental health are currently in search of new methodological and conceptual foundations, and philosophy is actively involved in the quest, as the recent increase of interdisciplinary research initiatives and publications testifies (see eg. Fulford, this volume for a review). Among the different philosophical schools, phenomenology is a long-term ally for psychiatry. In the past, the work of authors such as Karl Jaspers have provided the very foundations of the di...