Tuesday, 3 May 2011

International Journal of Person-Centered Medicine, again

I see that the International Journal of Person-Centered Medicine (Int J Pers Cent Med) has now published a large number of short papers: here.

The collection includes my own co-authored paper with Ken Schaffner (pictured). I’m sure Ken won’t mind me saying that I viewed our co-production with some anxiety. We were, in effect, instructed by Juan Mezzich to co-author a piece on philosophy of science relevant to the Program on Psychiatry for the Person but also given a tiny word limit.

This presented two problems: we would have to select a single idea or problem area rather than attempt to summarise everything that might be of relevance. It seemed to me that the most obvious philosophy of science issue connected to this programme rather than any other area of psychiatry was the relation of understanding and explanation. But this prompted the second problem: Ken and I have entirely different underlying assumptions about this.

I take it that it marks the distinction between the normative space of reasons and something with an entirely different explanatory logic, perhaps subsumption under laws.

Ken does not start from that assumption. He assumes a much more pragmatic view that there are different conceptual tools for different jobs. (I first met him at a WPA conference and pressed him on how he proposed to accommodate the normativity of person-level explanations in his multi-level model. He looked at me quite blankly. On that day, it simply wasn’t in his mind. (That is not to say he is not fully up to speed on the debate as seen from the normativist side even if he disagrees with us.))

Still, in my old age, I have ended up with a view which is much closer to that than I would have thought when writing my PhD. I don’t think that we should assume that there cannot be local liaisons between elements in both schemes. And I don’t think that we should aim at a single stereoscopic view (in Sellars’ phrase). So perhaps this ends up looking rather pragmatic. But the underlying view is that there is a distinct kind of logic. Does that starting difference matter if it becomes disguised or ameliorated by some additional thoughts? I am inclined, still, to think it does or should.

In the end, however, our piece is so short that all we can do is flag the issue and flag different approaches to dealing with it. I hope that, perhaps for psychiatrists, there is some value in that.