Compulsion and specific mental disorders

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

Compulsion and specific mental disorders

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Let me now summarize my theses with regard to compelled actions and mental disorders. It is my contention that many mentally disordered persons have a life-situation that is very narrow in the sense that many of their actions are compelled. The subjects have to perform (or feel that they have to perform) a particular action that is, for many reasons, undesired. They are unable to see that there is a preferable action to choose in order to reach an intended goal. The reasons for not seeing such an alternative can, however, differ. In the case of delusions (which is a common case, covering, for instance, paranoia, phobia, and possibly certain obsessions), the subjects have a set of fixated beliefs, implanted into them, which, together with their vital intentions to survive or survive unhurt, compel them to choose a particular course of action. In the case of kleptomania, pyromania, and desires brought about by alcoholism and drug addiction, it is not the belief but the want that has been inserted and fixated by a force other than the agent's self. The beliefs of these people may be completely adequate and in accordance with clear perceptions. The kleptomaniac clearly perceives the desirable objects in the store. The pyromaniac clearly perceives a fire and, similarly, the drug addict may correctly perceive the opportunity to get hold of new drugs. The rigid person implants in him- or herself a set of duties to be performed but, although the person invents these duties, this process is not accessible to him or her. Mentally retarded people, people exhibiting automatic behaviour, and psychopaths, finally, need not have any intentions or beliefs implanted in them. They are, however, for other reasons, unable to see any actions alternative to the ones they happen to choose.

It is crucial to keep in mind the general sense of compulsion that I have used throughout this study: A was compelled to do F if, and only if, A could not avoid doing F. The reason for the unavoidability need not be a strong ‘force’ that, in a sense, ‘drags’ the subject to perform a particular action. Compulsion in my sense is also the case where the agent simply does not see any alternative to a particular course of action. If there is no alternative to F-ing, and something must be done, then it is unavoidable that A does F.

Chapter.  12962 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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