Psychiatry beyond the brain: externalism, mental health, and autistic spectrum disorder

Philosophy Psychiatry and Psychology 26 (3):E-51-E68 (2019)
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Externalist theories hold that a comprehensive understanding of mental disorder cannot be achieved unless we attend to factors that lie outside of the head: neural explanations alone will not fully capture the complex dependencies that exist between an individual’s psychiatric condition and her social, cultural, and material environment. Here, we firstly offer a taxonomy of ways in which the externalist viewpoint can be understood, and unpack its commitments concerning the nature and physical realization of mental disorder. Secondly, we apply a strongly externalist approach to the case of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and argue that this condition can be illuminated by appeal to the hypothesis of extended cognition. We conclude by briefly considering the significance this strongly externalist approach may have for psychiatric practice and pedagogy.

Author Profiles

Tom Roberts
University of Exeter
Joel Krueger
University of Exeter
Shane Glackin
University of Exeter


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