The concept of mental dysfunction: a Kantian critique

Annett, Neil (2023) The concept of mental dysfunction: a Kantian critique. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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My thesis investigates a fundamental presupposition in psychiatric theory and practice: that the symptoms of mental disorders reflect an underlying dysfunction. That is, mental disorder arises from the failure or impairment of one or more mental mechanisms, and is therefore primarily a problem internal to the disordered individual, with external factors being seen as secondary.

I concentrate on what is perhaps the most influential attempt to define the concept of mental disorder in this way, Jerome Wakefield’s harmful dysfunction analysis (HDA), and examine it in light of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I first chart Kant’s interest in mental disorder and concerns about metaphysics, which I argue are important for the development of the Critique. Following this, I draw
upon Kant’s account of human cognition and its a priori conditions of possibility in order to subject the HDA to a critique that questions its status as a purportedly objective analysis of the mental disorder concept.

It transpires that Wakefield’s analysis is motivated by – partly ethical – concerns prompted by critics within the so-called ‘antipsychiatry’ movement. I argue that while his worries are justifiable, his response also has ethical implications as a result of defining mental disorder as a categorical break with nondisorder. I present an approach to understanding one particular disorder, schizophrenia, through a broadly Kantian dialectic of the self, and argue that on this view even this most perplexing of mental disorders can be understood in terms of confusions that are basic to all human experience, and the schizophrenic can come to seem less decisively ‘other’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Nicola Veasy
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2024 09:36
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2024 09:36


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