In psychiatry, few question the legitimacy of asking whether a given psychiatric disorder is real; similarly, in psychology, scholars debate the reality of such theoretical entities as general intelligence, superegos, and personality traits. And yet in both disciplines, little thought is given to what is meant by the rather abstract philosophical concept of “real." Indeed, certain psychiatric disorders have passed from real to imaginary (as in the case of multiple personality disorder) and from imaginary to real (as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder). In this book, Peter Zachar considers such terms as “real" and “reality"—invoked in psychiatry but often obscure and remote from their instances—as abstract philosophical concepts. He then examines the implications of his approach for psychiatric classification and psychopathology.
Proposing what he calls a scientifically inspired pragmatism, Zachar considers such topics as the essentialist bias, diagnostic literalism, and the concepts of natural kind and social construct. Turning explicitly to psychiatric topics, he proposes a new model for the domain of psychiatric disorders, the imperfect community model, which avoids both relativism and essentialism. He uses this model to understand such recent controversies as the attempt to eliminate narcissistic personality disorder from the DSM-5. Returning to such concepts as real, true, and objective, Zachar argues that not only should we use these metaphysical concepts to think philosophically about other concepts, we should think philosophically about them.
About the Author
Peter Zachar is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Auburn University Montgomery. He is the author of Psychological Concepts and Biological Psychiatry: A Philosophical Analysis.
“Erudite yet engaging, philosophically sophisticated yet clinically relevant, A Metaphysics of Psychopathology is an ideal guide for navigating the turbulent waters engulfing DSM-5. Peter Zachar provides a voice of sanity amidst the strident polemics marring the debate over the latest edition of psychiatry’s bible and its often controversial diagnoses. He is surely one of the most thoughtful clinicians writing about the meaning of mental illness today.”
—Richard J. McNally, Professor and Director of Clinical Training, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of What Is Mental Illness?
“This is an extraordinarily rich book based on wide-ranging and detailed interdisciplinary scholarship. It brings debate over the metaphysics of mental illness several steps forward, even for those may wish to challenge it. And it will enable other scholars to build on its insights.”
—George Graham, Professor of Philosophy, Georgia State University
“A Metaphysics of Psychopathology is a very valuable book. Zachar is a sophisticated philosophical thinker with a gift for writing clearly. His discussion of what it means to say that something is a *real* mental disorder supplies one of the best, and most sensible, available answers to this important question.”
—Rachel Cooper, author of Psychiatry and the Philosophy of Science and Diagnosing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
“By bridging across tenets of analytical philosophy, psychopathology, and the current DSM nomenclature of mental disorders, Zachar examines critically the implicit conceptual underpinnings of selected constructs such as depression and personality disorders. The clarity of argumentation and the richness of detail in this scholarly volume make a captivating reading not only for professionals but for anyone interested in the history of ideas in psychiatry and clinical psychology.”
—Assen Jablensky, Winthrop Professor of Psychiatry, The University of Western Australia