Psychiatric disorder and its explanation

Derek Bolton and Jonathan Hill

in Mind, Meaning and Mental Disorder

Second edition

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780198515609
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754296 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Psychiatric disorder and its explanation

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We have now taken our account of intentional causal processes into the explanation of adult human behaviour. As was the case with non-psychological and non-human examples, the description of normal or functional response is inseparable from that of abnormal or dysfunctional, and the key is the integrity of the intentional causal process. In human psychological functioning this is more complex but the principles are the same.

The definition of psychiatric disorder is essentially descriptive and probably refers to a heterogeneous set of phenomena, but the apparent disruption of intentionality is central to its identity. The explanation may entail further, previously unidentified, intentional contributions, or disruption arising from a non-intentional causal agent. In many respects psychiatric practice has borrowed from general medicine the assumption that in disorder intentionality has been interrupted, or run out, and in some Instances this will be the case. In general even where there is a non-intentional cause of breakdown, both in psychological and non-psychological systems there are compensatory, intentional causal responses.

The interplay between intentional and non-intentional causal processes, and between developing individuals and specific environmental factors, are important in a consideration of genetic influences. The concept of genetically influenced ‘design fault’ is useful once it has been modified to take account of the developmental issues that we reviewed in Chapter 6. In the light of our analysis of causal processes, ‘biological psychiatry’ is seen to have made use of a restricted sense of the term ‘biological’. Further, where it has assumed that biological processes are reducible to physics and chemistry, it has departed from an intentional causal analysis that is needed both in biology and psychology.

Chapter.  17561 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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