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Allen, Anita L., and . Mental Disorders and the “System of Judgmental Responsibility”

2010, Boston University Law Review 90: 621-640.

Diversifying SyllabiThesis: Those affected by mental disorders whose actions are episodically influenced by their disorder are often overlooked by philosophers of moral and ethical responsibility. Allen gives us reasons for thinking it is inappropriate to either:

a) “summarily exclude people with mental problems out of the universe of moral agents, reducing them to the status of rocks, trees, animals, and infants”
b) “include the group on the false assumption that their moral lives are precisely like the paradigmatic moral lives of the epistemically-sound and well-regulated people never personally touched by a mental condition”

We must explore a revised approach to moral and ethical responsibility and obligation for this group.

Comment: This text is useful in teaching in two main contexts: (1) in discussing ethical issues related to mental disorders; and (2) to provide a challenging case in classes on blame and responsibility. The text can be also used in the context of the free will and determinism debate, and as a further reading in classes on moral agency.

Churchland, Patricia, and . The impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy

2008, Neuron 60, November 6

Diversifying SyllabiChurchland claims that experimental science has gradually (and rightfully and successfully) replaced philosophical investigations of the world, and suggests that the time has come for philosophy of mind and moral philosophy to “cede” to experimental science. She claims that conceptual analysis has been undermined by “a torrent of neuro­psychological results” that contradict folk psychology (i.e. intuition). Thus, self­respecting philosophers of mind have begun to engage with experimental science. Moral philosophers have not yet realized that their field is going in the same direction, and that their stories are about to be superceded by a “naturalistic framework for looking at human morality and decision making” (409). She gives some examples from animal studies bearing on social behaviour and organization like monogamy, trust and cooperation, social attachment, group cooperation or amalgamation. One central point is that moral rules play only a partial role, if at all, in the “brain’s decision” when faced with “constraint­satisfaction problems” (410).

Comment: This text offers a perfect way to address the common reservations regarding the validity and usefullness of philosophy in the age of neuroscience among the students. It clearly distinguishes between the questions which can and cannot be answered empirically, and shows how the aims of philosophy and neuroscience differ. As the text is very approachable, it can easily be used even outside of a philosophy class; in more focused ethics or philosophy of mind classes it might be best accompanied by more specialised texts.

Cooper, Rachel, and . Classifying madness: a philosophical examination of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders

2005, Dordrecht: Springer.

Publisher: Classifying Madness concerns philosophical problems with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, more commonly known as the D.S.M. The D.S.M. is published by the American Psychiatric Association and aims to list and describe all mental disorders. The first half of Classifying Madness asks whether the project of constructing a classification of mental disorders that reflects natural distinctions makes sense. Chapters examine the nature of mental illness, and also consider whether mental disorders fall into natural kinds. The second half of the book addresses epistemic worries. Even supposing a natural classification system to be possible in principle, there may be reasons to be suspicious of the categories included in the D.S.M. I examine the extent to which the D.S.M. depends on psychiatric theory, and look at how it has been shaped by social and financial factors. I aim to be critical of the D.S.M. without being antagonistic towards it. Ultimately, however, I am forced to conclude that although the D.S.M. is of immense practical importance, it is unlikely to come to reflect the natural structure of mental disorders.

Comment: The early chapters are particularly useful in teaching, as they discuss the treatment of mental disorders as natural kinds. They are particularly useful in teaching applied ethics related to mental disorders and can inform a discussion on the claims made by the members of the antipsychiatrist movement. The text can also provide good support for advanced level teaching focusing on natural kinds and social constructs.