Towards a theory of mental disorder: the place of compulsion

Lennart Nordenfelt

in Rationality and Compulsion

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780199214853
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754517 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Towards a theory of mental disorder: the place of compulsion

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An investigation into the various forms of inability of being rational can be taken along two very different paths. On the one hand, one can take as one's starting-point the established list of psychiatric diagnoses and see how these can be mapped on to the possible forms of irrationality that I (and others) have traced. On the other hand, one can consider the various logical forms of irrationality and see which of them obviously do reduce or could possibly reduce a person's general ability to realize his or her vital goals. (The latter project is the one initiated, over the whole area of mental health, by Per-Anders Tengland in Mental Health: A Philosophical Analysis 2001.) In this brief presentation, I will do a little bit of both. My exemplifications will then of course be very far from exhaustive.

Before considering the central cases of delusion, I will consider the important set of cases where a conflict appears to occur between two or more of the subject's wants. The subject has, on the one hand, a rational want (in the sense that the want is conducive to further important ends of his or hers). But, on the other hand, he or she also has a conflicting, irrational, perhaps even self-destructive want. The latter tends, in a particular case, to override the former. Moreover, the subject is unable to prevent this situation from occurring. This is, according to my previous analysis, a crucial condition.

A large set of cases exists in which the irrational conflicting want overrides the rational want of a subject because the former is, as we say, of a compelling or compulsive nature. I will, in the following, scrutinize this idea, first by analysing further the notion of compulsion and then by considering a number of psychiatric conditions that exemplify compulsion in some sense. It is obvious that the terms ‘compulsive’ and ‘compelling’, as used in ordinary discourse, cover slightly different kinds of phenomena.

Chapter.  6287 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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