In psychiatry, few question the legitimacy of asking whether a given psychiatric disorder is real; similarly, in psychology, scholars debate the reality of such theoretical entities as general intelligence, superegos, and personality traits. And yet in both disciplines, little thought is given to what is meant by the rather abstract philosophical concept of "real." Indeed, certain psychiatric disorders have passed from real to imaginary (as in the case of multiple personality disorder) and from imaginary to real (as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder). In this book, Peter Zachar considers such terms as "real" and "reality" -- invoked in psychiatry but often obscure and remote from their instances -- as abstract philosophical concepts. He then examines the implications of his approach for psychiatric classification and psychopathology. Proposing what he calls a scientifically inspired pragmatism, Zachar considers such topics as the essentialist bias, diagnostic literalism, and the concepts of natural kind and social construct.
Turning explicitly to psychiatric topics, he proposes a new model for the domain of psychiatric disorders, the imperfect community model, which avoids both relativism and essentialism. He uses this model to understand such recent controversies as the attempt to eliminate narcissistic personality disorder from the DSM-5. Returning to such concepts as real, true, and objective, Zachar argues that not only should we use these metaphysical concepts to think philosophically about other concepts, we should think philosophically about them.
The Metaphysics of Psychopathology is undoubtedly a rich, stimulating, and wide-ranging book that constitutes a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on the philosophy of psychiatry. The Philosophical Quarterly The author is equally at home with clinical practice and philosophical analysis, and the book will be of interest to clinicians; philosophers of science; science, technology, and society (STS) scholars; and historians of science and medicine. Clinicians, whether seasoned or in training, will find the coverage intellectually engaging. Those with minimal background in philosophy may find it challenging. Yet, the writing is clear and the abstractions fleshed out with familiar examples to aid accessibility. -- Lisa M. Osbeck PsycCRITIQUES
About the author
Peter Zachar is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Auburn University Montgomery. He is the author of Psychological Concepts and Biological Psychiatry: A Philosophical Analysis.
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