Function, dysfunction, and adaptation?

Kelly Roe and Dominic Murphy

in Maladapting Minds

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199558667
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754647 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Function, dysfunction, and adaptation?

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Jerome Wakefield has argued that mental disorders are harmful dysfunctions. In claiming to capture people's intuitions, however, Wakefield argues that people think of mental disorders along the lines of a two-stage model. Now, the two-stage model sees psychiatry as a branch of medicine, in that it rests on a scientific account of the normal function of the human mind/brain. If psychiatry is continuous with medicine and physiology in this way, its analysis of function and malfunction should reflect that continuity. In this chapter we argue that the way the relevant biomedical sciences determine function does not presume a selectionist concept of function. We argue that the relevant accounts of function are those drawn from mechanistic explanation rather than historical explanation; the life sciences ask all sorts of questions, but the questions which medicine asks are not those which a selectionist account of function can answer. The chapter contrasts Wakefield's (and others’) selectionist (or historical) view with a causal (or mechanistic) theory of functions - the systemic capacity view, which sees the function of a system as its contribution to the maintenance of the larger system in which it is embedded. The authors argue that the systemic capacity view provides a better account of how functions are understood and functional claims tested in medicine and physiology. However, they end by wondering whether there is in fact any role for science to play in determining what the overall functional state of an organism is, and hence whether science can draw the line between health and illness in the way that the two-stage system takes for granted.

Chapter.  10012 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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