A Note on the Dynamics of Psychiatric Classification

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The question of how psychiatric classifications are made up and to what they refer has attracted the attention of philosophers in recent years. In this paper, I review the claims of authors who discuss psychiatric classification in terms referring both to the philosophical tradition of natural kinds and to the sociological tradition of social constructionism — especially those of Ian Hacking and his critics. I examine both the ontological and the social aspects of what it means for something to be a mental disorder, and how the ontological status of these disorders hinges on social causation. Finally, I conclude by suggesting a way in which the biological and the social may be reconciled in an integrative model of variation in psychiatric disorder.
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