Philosophy of Science, Psychiatric Classification, and the DSM

In Şerife Tekin & Robyn Bluhm (eds.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Philosophy of Psychiatry. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 177-196 (2019)
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Abstract
This chapter examines philosophical issues surrounding the classification of mental disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In particular, the chapter focuses on issues concerning the relative merits of descriptive versus theoretical approaches to psychiatric classification and whether the DSM should classify natural kinds. These issues are presented with reference to the history of the DSM, which has been published regularly by the American Psychiatric Association since 1952 and is currently in its fifth edition. While the first two editions of the DSM adopted a theoretical (psychoanalytic) and etiological approach to classification, subsequent editions of the DSM have adopted an atheoretical and purely descriptive (“neo-Kraepelinian”) approach. It is argued that largest problem with the DSM at present—viz., its failure to provide valid diagnostic categories—is directly related to the purely descriptive methodology championed by the DSM since the third edition of the DSM. In light of this problem, the chapter discusses the prospects of a theoretical and causal approach to psychiatric classification and critically examines the assumption that the DSM should classify natural kinds.
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