Intuitions Meet Experiments: Methods in Philosophy of Psychiatry
Psychiatrists, both in treating patients and conducting research, seek a rationale for their decisions based on their understanding of human nature and psychiatric illness. In doing so they inevitably base their thinking on a range of underlying assumptions, often tacit intuitions, about basic questions such as the nature of human agency, the relationship of mind and brain, the distinction of free and unfree action, the limits of responsibility, and the boundaries and unity of the self. Some of these assumptions derive from the general culture, i.e. folk psychology. Others are the assumptions underlying the various scientific disciplines upon which psychiatry draws. Failing to critically examine these assumptions explicitly can lead to erroneous or incoherent conclusions, as well as confusing and unproductive interaction between psychiatrists and patients, or between mental health colleagues, when they unwittingly are operating with a different set of underlying assumption.
Similar pre-theoretical intuitions have long been an important part of philosophical methodology, informing work in such areas as philosophy of mind, epistemology and ethics. A more recent area of inquiry focuses on philosophical intuitions themselves, examining their role in thought experiments and philosophical theorizing. This has also led to a thriving research program of experimental philosophy that tests the intuitions of non-philosophers to see if they match philosophical claims about them. Work in this area has been notable especially in the areas of moral judgment, free will, and epistemology. There has been considerable debate on whether some commonly shared pre-theoretical convictions should serve as constraints on philosophical theories.
This conference takes its cue from these debates, inviting a broad discussion of intuitions and related methodologies in the philosophy of psychiatry to help examine the nature and legitimacy of the range of background assumptions at work in psychiatric theorizing and practice. We invite papers examining which intuitions psychiatry and the philosophy of psychiatry depend on, whether those intuitions are indeed widely shared in the general population, whether those intuitions can be justified by independent argument, whether philosophical conclusions can be reached in this area without depending on intuitions, and what alternative approaches we have that do not rely on intuitions. We also welcome papers that examine broader methodological topics in philosophy of psychiatry, such as the use of thought experiments and comparing different philosophical traditions as to their utility in providing solutions to the problems raised by the use of intuitions. We also hope for discussion of the relationship of scientific psychiatry to philosophical intuitions: whether these are completely separate domains or whether the science itself depends on foundational intuitions.
The conference organizers are also interested in creating a special issue of an academic journal or an edited collection of papers based on the theme of this conference.
Here are some suggestions about possible presentation topics.
- What role do folk intuitions about free will and free action play in the classification of mental disorders such as substance abuse disorders?
- Distinguishing between symptomatic action and intentional action: does psychiatric theory supersede folk intuition?
- Is psychiatry able to move beyond assumptions from folk psychology?
- How do patients’ stories of their experience of mental illness align with folk conceptions of mental disorders?
- The role of assumptions of the unity of the self in classifying dissociation and hearing voices as disorders?
- What does folk morality say about the moral responsibility of people who are mentally ill?
- Do people change identity during manic episodes? How does this challenge or confirm folk intuitions about personal identity?
- What are the strengths and limitations of thought experiments in philosophy of psychiatry?
- Do folk intuitions about mental disorders vary across cultures?
- To what extent does phenomenology rely on intuitions about the mind?
- Is there a relationship between people’s intuitions about free will and moral responsibility and their beliefs about the nature of mental illness?