The categorical argument

Neil Pickering

in The Metaphor of Mental Illness

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198530886
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754395 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

The categorical argument

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Leaving behind the likeness argument this chapter has considered another way of raising and answering questions about the existence of mental illness. Perhaps the question is about the idea or notion of mental illness. I suggested that mental illness represents a category in terms of which we may seek to organize and understand the world, rather than a category that the world gives us. But perhaps this supposed category involves a mix of other ideas that simply do not hang together. Perhaps the category cannot really exist. I have wanted to offer some mild support to this thought. At any rate, I have sought to suggest that it does not rest upon what might be regarded as a problematic basis in substance dualism. I have pointed out two other forms of dualism that it might also rest upon. These were Szasz's form of mind–body dualism and Latour's modernist dualism of nature and society.

What such dualisms may seem to help explain is something significant. And that is the fact that ideas such as mental and illness but also any others you might care to mention have boundaries. They cannot be applied to just anything: they have to have limits. So this leaves open the possibility that mental illness is indeed an incoherent notion. The two notions of which it is constituted may have boundaries such that further ideas connected to mental and further ideas connected to illness are quite distinct from one another.

This idea of limits is in turn related to an idea that Thomas Szasz uses—the idea of metaphor. Metaphor is a combination of ideas that seems to be deliberately incongruent or incoherent. Szasz says mental illness is just such a combination. As will emerge in the next part of the book, I think Szasz has hold of some element of the truth here. But the element of the truth he has hold of does not ultimately support the idea that mental illness is an incoherent idea: rather, it serves to explain the nature of its existence. Mental illness is indeed a metaphor.

Chapter.  11741 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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