Naturalism and dysfunction

Thornton, Tim orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0137-1554 (2021) Naturalism and dysfunction. In: Defining Mental Disorders: Jerome Wakefield and his Critics. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262045643

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The harmful dysfunction account of disorder separates an explicitly normative or evaluative notion of harm from the idea of dysfunction which is subject to a reductionist naturalistic account. Dysfunction is analysed as a failure of function which is itself reduced via evolutionary biology. In this paper, I question this latter aspect of the account. Light can be shed on the prospect of reducing the apparently normative notion of dysfunction by comparing it with two distinct reductionist projects in the philosophy of content which stand to each other as do the contrasting options in the euthyphro dilemma. A more modest project takes for granted the structure of normative relations between concepts and attempts to solve an engineering problem of how human thought can fit that structure. A more ambitious project aims to explain that structure itself in naturalistic terms. The ambitious project, however, is undermined by an argument from Wittgenstein. I argue that the harmful dysfunction analysis of disorder has to be interpreted as isomorphous with the latter project and is thus subject to the same objection.

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