A Relational Theory of Mental Illness: Lacking Identity and Solidarity

Synthesis Philosophica 71 (1):65-81 (2021)
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In this article I aim to make progress towards the philosophical goal of ascertaining what, if anything, all mental illnesses have in common, attempting to unify a large sub-set of them that have a relational or interpersonal dimension. One major claim is that, if we want a promising theory of mental illness, we must go beyond the dominant western accounts of mental illness/health, which focus on traits intrinsic to a person such as pain/pleasure, lethargy/liveliness, fragmentation/integration, and falsehood/authenticity. A second major claim is that the relational facets of mental illness are plausibly understood theoretically in terms of a person’s inability to identify with others or to exhibit solidarity with them, relational values that are salient in the African philosophical tradition. I show that these two extrinsic properties well explain several intuitive instances of mental illness, including, amongst several others, being abusive, psychopathic, narcissistic, histrionic, paranoid, and phobic.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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