The critical theory of psychopharmacology: the work of David Healy and beyond

Douglas Porter

in Philosophical Perspectives on Technology and Psychiatry

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print January 2007 | ISBN: 9780199207428
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754494 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

The critical theory of psychopharmacology: the work of David Healy and beyond

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David Healy's historical account of psychopharmacology is a critical one. Healy's concern for therapeutics prompts his careful and critical examination of historical contingencies in the development of this peculiar form of technology. To appreciate the depth of this critique and how it makes an important contribution to the overall critical theory of technology it becomes necessary to overcome an epistemology that would have us believe that good science is a value neutral affair. Social values form a necessary element in the production of science and science-based technology but do not preclude the cooperative search for empirical truth or technical feasibility. It is possible to argue rationally for morally legitimate values in which to ground our science based technology. It is clear that therapeutic advocacy must extend beyond narrow technical concerns and incorporate a concern for the moral legitimacy of our science and technology. This moral concern is evident in Healy's work.

Healy points out how and where psychopharmacology has diverged from patient interests in order to fulfill marketing imperatives. If psychopharmacology is to fulfill its potential as a therapeutic technology it must be developed according to the needs and interests of the patients it affects. The alternative is for psychopharmacology to deteriorate into the technological tool of a pernicious form of social engineering. In keeping with the tradition of critical theory, the point of our work is not only to understand our world, but also to change it. Healy's work is punctuated with recommendations for reform that would help the technology of psychopharmacology become inscribed with the values of the people it is meant to help. We have the opportunity, with the help of the affected community, to reinvest in our technology so that it can fulfill its therapeutic potential. Healy's work does a great deal to point the way toward a psychopharmacology of, by, and for the community.

Chapter.  8412 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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