Solving the self-illness ambiguity: the case for construction over discovery

Philosophical Explorations 25 (3):294-313 (2022)
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Psychiatric patients sometimes ask where to draw the line between who they are – their selves – and their mental illness. This problem is referred to as the self-illness ambiguity in the literature; it has been argued that solving said ambiguity is a crucial part of psychiatric treatment. I distinguish a Realist Solution from a Constructivist one. The former requires finding a supposedly pre-existing border, in the psychiatric patient’s mental life, between that which belongs to the self and that which belongs to the mental illness. I argue that no such border exists, and that attempts to find it might even render the felt ambiguity worse. Instead, any solution must be constructivist; the patient (and others) should deliberate and discuss what to identify with or not. I further argue that psychiatric patients need not see their mental illness as wholly distinct from themselves to avoid ‘identifying with their diagnoses' in a problematic way. Finally, we can excuse problematic behaviour by mentally ill people – in fact, we can do so in a more nuanced and constructive way – while rejecting the view that the mental illness is wholly distinct from the patient’s self.

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Sofia M.I. Jeppsson
Umeå University


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