Wednesday, 30 June 2010

At the INPP 2010 conference in Manchester

I’ve spent the last three days at the 13th INPP conference co-hosted by my university and ENUSP. The aim of that partnership was to stimulate a wider dialogue about issues in the philosophy of psychiatry than is usually the case at such conferences. I’m not sure I can judge accurately how much progress was made but I think we can say that we made an honest attempt at a first step.

There are a number of fundamental intellectual tensions in the area (to pick another: the idea that understandability might be the mark of the mental together with the problem of articulating the content of good quality delusions) which cannot simply be side-stepped. In the relationship between psychiatry and service user groups, the issue of coercion looks to be another unavoidable tension which cannot simply be wished away.

One other obvious feature of the conference was a rare chance to hear Thomas Szasz. It was interesting to hear how resolutely he rejected being co-opted into strategic alliance with members of the audience who thought they agreed with him. He was also admirably self-consistent following inferences no matter how unappealing the final destination.

My random selection of papers included Paul Hoff singing the praises of Jaspers’ less well know rival Arthur Kronfeld and his notion of autological psychiatry. Sadly insofar as Kronfeld emphasised the role of an irreducible mental starting point (to complement external heterological causal and physiological factors), he was stuck on what Bermudez calls the 'interface problem' rather than having a bright idea to get round it (at least that is what Paul Hoff thought over coffee).

Victor Dura-Vila presented preliminary findings from a joint anthropological study of nuns’ and others’ views on personal identity. My hunch is that testing variation on initial intuitions might destabilise one view of philosophy if it turns out that there is wide variation. (That view is that philosophy starts from and aims to preserve as many as possible of, our intiutions, though necessarily sacrificing some. If there were wide variation in starting intuitions, there might not be much point to that venture.) But, on the train this morning, Gloria Ayob disagreed: any such inquiry necessarily initiated a philosophical investigation not a theory neutral sampling of stable intuitions. This made me wonder whether, punning on the word ‘intuition’, philosophy might be Hegelian rather than Kantian, with no intuitional constraints on it from outside it.

Clarissa Dantas, a colleague of Claudio Banzato, presented a very clear account of the presence of values in the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Given that profs Sadler and Fulford were in the room (both committed to the irreducible presence of values in diagnosis), I tried to get her to comment on the idea that these might be explained away through biological dysfunction but she modestly declined.

Louis Charland (picturerd) raised a very simple but powerful issue: is it ever possible to get informed consent from addicts for studies of addiction. It struck me as bang on.

My own presentations are here and here. In addition I tried to co-host a session with Anne Laure Donskoy aimed at non-philosophers to explore from first principles just how philosophical insight was so much as possible: (for me at least) much the hardest thing I’ve recently tried.