Thursday, 18 September 2014

Two draft abstracts for presentations in Durham

6th October:
On the role of the Constitutive Ideal of Rationality. Does inter-personal understanding emerge from shared rationality?

According to an influential, although contested, thought experiment in the philosophy of language, facts about linguistic meaning and belief contents derive from facts about interpersonal understanding which, in turn, presupposes comparison to an ideal of rationality. Thus, belief and meaning must be essentially rationally structured. This provides a rationale for holding that such understanding emerges from shared rationality. There are, however, two distinct ways of interpreting such a claim depending on whether or not it is possible to gain independent purchase on the notion of rationality in play. This seminar will explore both options and their consequences for thinking of the emergence involved as related to reduction or abstraction.

13th November:
On the therapeutic status of McDowell’s representationalism.

In Mind and World and other papers written around the same time, McDowell presents his representational account of experience as contributing to the dissolution of felt problems attaching to transcendental empiricism which he describes as, itself, innocent. With echoes of Sellars’ Myth of Jones, the content of experience is modelled on that of judgements and provides a philosophically minimal account of the rational friction of world on thought. But since ‘Avoiding the Myth of the Given’, the account has become a more complex theory of perceptual experience. Given McDowell’s meta-philosophical aims, the very substance of the recent stages of the evolution of the account suggests the need for a re-examination of the argument for representationalism in the first place.

One in Four Film Festival, Mental Health: It's everybody''s business

6TH -10TH OCTOBER 2014
The One in Four Film Festival 2014 is a week-long free event featuring films which explore the effects of mental ill health upon individuals, communities and families. The aim of the Festival is to raise awareness of and stamp out the stigma associated with mental ill health. The Festival is sponsored by the School of Health.
Every evening a film that explores mental health is shown at 7pm, the film is introduced by the person who has nominated the film for the festival and then a service user speaks about their own personal experience of living with a mental health diagnosis. By the use of film and the following debate we can explore and dispel some of the myths associated with mental ill health.
The One in Four Film Festival will be officially opened at 7pm by the Mayor of Preston and the Film Festival Committee 2014. Music will be provided by Mathew Clare from 6.15pm.
Mitchell & Kenyon Cinema, Foster Building, University of Central Lancashire, PR1 2HE
The One in Four Film Festival has as its highlight a day focused on entertainment and information. The event will be held on the 8th October 2014 from 10.30am to 3.00pm at 53 Degrees.
The day comprises of a number of artists playing music, performing poetry and dance. We also have a market stall space available for students to meet and find out more about local mental health statutory and voluntary services.

This year we will also have a number of UCLan academics hosting seminars focusing on the mental health research they have carried out. The research will provide valuable insight into mental health and will foster debate across a wide audience.

Friday, 5 September 2014

UCLan Philosophy HeRMI

What’s a HeRMI? 
The School of Health is setting up a number of ‘Health Research Methodology and Implementation Hubs’ in areas such as Qualitative Research, Health Informatics, Systematic Review, User Engagement. Their focus is thus on particular methods or approaches to research rather than on particular subject areas. Although the nature of the activity undertaken will vary as appropriate between the different hubs, their initial aims are:
• To build methodological capability
• To act as a link to external methodological resources and networks
• To support high quality bids and research activity by providing specialist methodological input
• To work towards a profile in methodological innovation for REF2020

HeRMI Philosophy Group 
Healthcare raises as many conceptual as empirical questions concerning the nature of health, illness and recovery, capacity and autonomy and normative questions concerning justice and fairness in research and treatment. Philosophical research aims to answer such questions through a priori argument and reasoning rather than by empirical methods although drawing on empirical results. The justification for different empirical approaches is also a matter for philosophy.
The purpose of this group is to highlight and develop innovative philosophical work on healthcare and to foster a greater critical and reflective understanding of key concepts and research methods in healthcare.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Oxford Summer Schools and Conferences: Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference

Oxford Summer Schools and Conferences: Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference
23–25 July 2015

Applications are now open for these two linked events exploring areas in which the philosophy of mind and ethics or the philosophy of value make contact with issues about mental health.

Summer School
23–24 July 2015
Highlights include:
Other Minds: Anita Avramides, Joel Kruegar and Vasu Reddy
Hallucination/Psychosis : Matthew Broome, Matthew Parrott and Owen Earnshaw
Embodiment: Katherine Morris
Mental Health and Human Flourishing:Edward Harcourt and Jeremy Holmes
Ancients and Mental Health: Karen Margarethe Nielsen

25 July 2015
Speakers include:
Owen Flanagan (James B Duke Professor and Professor of Neurobiology, Duke University, USA)
Gerritt Glass (Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry, VU University, Netherlands)
Rachel Cooper (Senior lecturer, Lancaster University, UK)

Quick thoughts on contesting Jaspers and ununderstandability

Aline M.P., who is working on a PhD on delusion, and I had one of those interesting PhD supervisions today which made me regret the lack of time to go very carefully over some key texts. In this case, Jaspers’ General Psychopathology. And thus my summary of our rather swift conversation may reveal some key ignorance on my part but I found it really helpful to talk through the strategic issues even if they refer as much to a logically possible Jaspers rather than the actual one (so what follows is an alloy of Aline’s and my thinking today although blindspots reflect badly only on me, as supervisor).

The irony of recent debate about the definition of delusion is, familiarly, that the standard definition varying a little across versions of the DSM has long been thought inadequate. That is, it isn’t news to argue against it. In fact, the main elements can be found in Jaspers who both puts it forward as a preliminary way to direct attention in the right general direction but also dismisses it with the comment:

To say simply that a delusion is a mistaken idea which is firmly held by the patient and which cannot be corrected gives only a superficial and incorrect answer to the problem. Definition will not dispose of the matter. [Jaspers: 93]

In its place, he emphasises instead ununderstandability as the criterion of primary delusions. If anything is, this is the definition of primary delusion in General Psychopathology. So if we are reading Jaspers critically, this might be a focus for assessment. But it faces a problem. If Jaspers uses ununderstandability to define primary delusions then contesting that status is not denying an empirical, synthetic claim but contesting an analytic claim.

So one possible response Jaspers could offer any critic is this: for any experience which is understandable, he can deny that it is a primary delusion and claim that his opponents are talking about the wrong experiences precisely because delusions are defined to be ununderstandable. (Cf trying to falsify ‘bachelors are unmarried’ by looking for married bachelors would suggest merely that one did not know what a bachelor was. Of course this may not be a useful word / concept) This begins to suggest that the claim is not falsifiable.

This thought raises a question or two. Why does it seem as though Jaspers is saying something interesting and contentious in that claim? And what are philosophers such as Sass doing when he seems to be trying to refute/falsify Jaspers?

Our first thought today: Jaspers starts by using the DSM style criteria and then goes on to say that the real criterion is ununderstandability. Thus it is tempting to hear him to be saying: ‘of the things picked out by the DSM criteria, actually they are ununderstandable’. Now that is substantial, empirical, falsifiable, synthetic etc etc. If so having both of these potential definitions of delusion is, despite appearances, important even if illicit. It gives the illusion that Jaspers is making a bold claim about the world rather than telling us of a terminological decision he has adopted. (Note that his official position is that delusions are those mental states that are ununderstandable and, further, that such states do not fit the DSM criteria.)

That also suggests one way one might interpret Sass and other philosophers who aim to make delusions intelligible etc. They also may be relying on the DSM criteria and saying, of what satisfies them, that they can be understood. If so, they are not strictly disagreeing with Jaspers but suggesting a different meaning for the word ‘delusion’ than his official position allows and then showing how such delusions can be understood.

In fact it seems that Sass does something slightly different. He assumes that everyone will agree that what Schreber experiences really are delusions however delusions should be defined. (In effect, this is an ostensive definition of delusions: the sort of thing Schreber writes about.) He then argues that we can understand them.
In the face of Sass (or, say, a two factor theorist) Jaspers might concede that he does succeed in shedding light on delusions in some way but that he does not provide proper understanding of, say, an empathic form and that that is what he was ruling out.

The problem with this move is that the more concrete he is about empathy, ie the more specific his views about what it is are, the more likely critics (eg Sass) are to reply: “Well who cares about empathic understanding? We have given a more general way of getting understanding.” But the more general Jaspers’ view of understanding (whether or not he uses the word empathy), the less likely he is to be able to make this initial reply to his critics.

A more likely response Jaspers could make to such critics is to argue that they have not, in fact, demonstrated understanding on any plausible view of it. This allows him to agree that they are discussing primary delusions (however they conceptualise them*) but for him to defend his main claim of ununderstandability against them. The main backing for this is that in Sass’ case, we do not understand the nonsensical solipsism after all (it being nonsensical). (And for two factor theorists, we really don’t understand the move from a lack of a sense of familiarity to a claim about robotic replacement even given the idea that delusional people are a bit quick with inferences. Adding these two factors together still provides no understanding of someone holding the delusion.)

(*Typing this now, I’m less happy about it. The question of under what Fregean sense they do think of delusions seems significant/substantial. A descriptive sense milked from the DSM would inherit its flaws, though it would be difficult to think that it is flawed: to think of delusions identified via the DSM criteria that they somehow did not instance the criteria that specified them in the first place. A demonstrative would still need a sortal which, in this case, will introduce difficulties: eg. that paradoxical mental state which does not fit the constitutive ideal of rationality.)


I hope that I am beginning to emerge from what has seemed the carcrash of 2014 (later: this was premature) and looking at the articles I have in draft at the moment. They include:

‘Is there such a thing as nursing knowledge?’ for Chambers, M. (ed) Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing: the craft of caring
Is there such a thing as ‘nursing knowledge’? What do and should we mean by that phrase? And does it help define nursing itself? It may seem that denying that there is such a thing, or unified kind, as nursing knowledge risks undermining the profession of nursing and runs counter to its new graduate status in the UK. But I will argue that on one understanding of the question, at least, it is correct to answer ‘no’ but that this is no threat to a picture of nursing as richly knowledge-based.
To do this, I will consider three important distinctions of kind which divide up forms of knowledge and argue that, in each case, nursing knowledge is distributed across both sides. This suggests that it is implausible to think that nursing knowledge is unified. At the same time, however, I will suggest that in each case there is reason to think that what is involved is, indeed, a form of knowledge. Finally, I will suggest that there is a key form of knowledgeable judgement at the heart of nursing but that this takes the form of an art rather than a science.

‘Naturalism and dysfunction’ for an MIT collection on Harmful Dysfunction edited by Denis Forest (Philosophie, Histoire et Sociologie de la M├ędecine Mentale (PHS2M) programme University of Paris Descartes)
The harmful dysfunction account of disorder separates an explicitly normative or evaluative notion of harm from the idea of dysfunction which is subject to a reductionist naturalistic account. Dysfunction is analysed as a failure of function which is itself reduced via evolutionary biology. In this paper, I question this latter aspect of the account. Light can be shed on the prospect of reducing the apparently normative notion of dysfunction by comparing it with two distinct reductionist projects in the philosophy of content which stand to each other as do the contrasting options in the euthyphro dilemma. A more modest project takes for granted the structure of normative relations between concepts and attempts to solve an engineering problem of how human thought can fit that structure. A more ambitious project aims to explain that structure itself in naturalistic terms. The ambitious project, however, is undermined by an argument from Wittgenstein. I argue that the harmful dysfunction analysis of disorder has to be interpreted as isomorphous with the latter project and is thus subject to the same objection.

‘The normativity of meaning and the constitutive ideal of rationality’ for Verheggen, C. (ed) Wittgenstein and Davidson on Thought, Language, and Action CUP
The normativity of meaning and the constitutive ideal of rationality. One legacy of the later Wittgenstein is the view that both meaning and mental content is normative. This is suggested by two distinct threads in the Philosophical Investigations. There is the idea that word use can be compared to rule governed games. And there is the idea that propositional attitudes prescribe satisfaction conditions likened to a ‘despotic demand’. But both elements have come under recent fire by philosophers who grant that meaning may be governed by constitutive rules but that these need not be thought of as having any prescriptive force and, further, there are no plausible articulations of any relevant prescriptive norms. Light can be shed on what has become a rather sterile debate, however, by comparing parallel views of the role of normativity arising from Davidson’s constitutive ideal of rationality which has been criticised as descriptively inadequate in the face of widespread empirical irrationality. But it also suggests a way in which the norms of meaning can be both constitutive and prescriptive.

‘Psychiatric classification, vagueness and tacit knowledge’ for Keil, G., Kutschenko, L., Hauswald, R. (eds) Gradualist Approaches to Mental Health and Disease
DSM III aimed to improve the reliability of psychiatric diagnosis via an operationalist emphasis on ‘observable’ signs and symptoms and the initial downplaying of aetiological theory. Signs and symptoms are first elicited and then syndromes derived through diagnostic algorithms. Whilst this has prompted the charge that reliability has improved only at the cost of validity, there has also been a criticism, from European psychiatrists, that the signs and symptoms articulated within DSM III and IV are vague by contrast with the specification provided by explicitly phenomenological psychiatry. Rather than providing a reliable foundation, the connection between individual symptoms and conditions in the DSM lacks specificity. By contrast, phenomenological psychiatry can chart a correlation between schizophrenia, for example, and particular kinds of catatonia or delusional structure. Correlations are not between schizophrenia and delusions in general but delusions with a specific schizophrenic colouring.
In this chapter, I attempt to shed light on these claims without presupposing the phenomenological tradition but instead by forging a connection between diagnosis and tacit knowledge. In The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi introduces the idea of such knowledge with the phrase ‘we can know more than we can tell’ but that leaves the nature of the knowledge underdetermined. I suggest, first, that it is a context-dependent but conceptually structured practical skill and, second, that the top-down approach to psychiatric symptoms compensates for the vagueness of DSM descriptions of symptoms through an exercise of recognitional tacit knowledge. This connection is not, however, unique to psychiatry. Although linguistic classification is the first step to making knowledge explicit it is itself an exercise of tacit skill, referred to by Polanyi as the ‘art of denotation’.

Bootstrapping conceptual normativity?
Both anti-reductionist and reductionist accounts of linguistic meaning and mental content face challenges accounting for learning a first language. Anti-reductionists cannot account for a transition from the pre-conceptual to conceptual without threatening to reduce the latter to the former. Reductionists of a representationalist variety face the challenge of Fodor’s argument that language learning is impossible.
This paper examines whether Ginsborg’s account of primitive normativity might provide some resources for addressing these issues. Rejecting her ‘no conception’ account of normativity in favour of a demonstrative, local conception provides one response to Fodor’s argument which is available to an anti-reductionist and at least a further hint as to how context-independent linguistic concepts can be developed from context-dependent local conceptions of how to go on.

‘Phenomenological implication as transcendental argument’ for Pickering, N. and van Staden, W. (eds) Wittgenstein and mental health for submission to the OUP International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry (IPPP) series
In their paper ‘Explaining schizophrenia: the relevance of phenomenology’, Sass and Parnas argue that phenomenological psychopathology can be explanatory rather than merely descriptive because it articulates the way in which mental symptoms are understandably connected by relations of ‘phenomenological implication’. They illustrate this claim through an account of schizophrenia as a disorder of a sense of ipseity from which two aspects seem to follow as a matter of phenomenological implication: the characteristic hyper-reflexivity of subjects with schizophrenia and what Sass and Parnas call ‘diminished self-affection’ which is a diminished sense of existing as a subject of awareness or agent of action. Both would follow if schizophrenia were at root a problem with ipseity. They further argue that these connections cannot be captured using the conceptual resources of Anglo-American philosophy.
In this chapter, I argue that the last claim is not true. Light can be shed on phenomenological implication by examining the nature of the synchronic and diachronic relations Sass and Parnas describe. I argue that their apparent intelligibility stems from their resemblance to expressive reactions, to rational action explanation and to the kind of transcendental argument one finds in the Kantian-Wittgensteinian tradition exemplified by analytic philosophers such as David Pears and Peter Strawson. In the last case, Sass and Parnas’ connections can be seen as mirroring such attempts within broadly Wittgenstein-influenced analytic philosophy to articulate the conditions of possibility of experience such as the connection between embodiment and judgement suggested by interpretations of Wittgenstein’s ‘private language argument’. But, I argue, there is a key disanalogy between such analytic investigations of the conditions of possibility of normal experience and a phenomenological investigation of psychopathology. In the former case, the connections are articulated from within a familiar and shared form of mindedness. Aspects of that are abstracted from the whole. By contrast, Sass and Parnas chart – partial, at least – failures of the conditions of possibility of normal mindedness. Given this contrast, it is less clear that phenomenological implication can successfully shed light on psychopathology.

‘Transcultural psychiatry’ for White, R. (ed) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Sociocultural Perspectives

‘Non-rational understanding? Feelings and the Beltane Fire Festival’