Realism and Anti-Realism about Mental Illness

  • Anthony Wrigley


In this paper I provide an account of the metaphysical foundations of mental illness in terms of a realism debate. I motivate the importance of such metaphysical analysis as a means of avoiding some intractable problems that beset discussion of the concept of mental illness. I apply aspects of the framework developed by Crispin Wright for realism debates in order to examine the ontological commitments to mental illness as a property that humans may exhibit and to examine the various arguments that realists and anti-realists can use to defend their position on mental illness. I pay particular attention to characterising Szasz's account of mental illness as that of an anti-realist error-theory and present ways in which a realist may counter such a position. Ultimately I argue that in order to hold a realist position on mental illness one would have to adopt some form of realism towards values, such as moral realism.

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eISSN: 0556-8641