South African Journal of Philosophy

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Mental disorders, brain disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders: challenges for the philosophy of psychopathology after DSM-5

Michael M Pitman


The publication of DSM-5 has been accompanied by a fair amount of controversy. Amongst DSM’s most vocal ‘insider’ critics has been Thomas Insel, Director of the US National Institute of Mental Health. Insel has publicly criticised DSM’s adherence to a symptom-based classification of mental disorder, and used the weight of the NIMH to back a rival research strategy aimed at a more biology-based diagnostic classification. This strategy is part of Insel’s vision of a future, more preventative psychiatry in which mental disorders are not only understood as biological disorders of the brain, but also as neurodevelopmental disorders. This paper examines the interest and merit of Insel’s views of mental and neurodevelopmental disorder for the philosophy of psychopathology, with a special focus of his neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia. Pitman’s ‘moderate materialism’ will be used both as a philosophical lens through which to examine Insel’s position, as well as an example of a philosophical framework that may require updating and revision in the light of moves towards a neurodevelopmental conception of mental disorder.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2014, 33(2): 131–144

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