Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Big or small p philosophy and/of psychiatry?

I gave a talk (briefly described here) at the Northern Ireland division of the Royal College of Psychiatrists the other day and so decided to pitch it at the idea that philosophy is a more or less obligatory part of self-conscious mental healthcare. The contrasting foils I considered were that it was either a debunking account of psychiatry in other terms such as an exercise of social control or, as Jennifer Hansen suggested to the AAPP a few years ago, a desperately needed defense of psychiatry against criticism essentially from outside it. I suggested instead that philosophical reflection grows organically out of internal debates in thoughtful psychiatry.

Afterwards, and after some interesting questions and debate, one person expressed surprise that the talk had been more about the philosophy of psychiatry than he had expected. I think he said that he had expected more philosophy with a small ‘p’. But I think he meant what I would express by saying philosophy with a large ‘P’: general, unapplied philosophy. So I have volunteered to go back and do that, if they wish, in the future. Mainstream philosophy for psychiatrists, as it were.

The irony is that when I was first invited to give philosophy of psychiatry sessions at large international psychiatry conferences by Bill Fulford, he always stressed that psychiatrists would be most interested in the standard philosophical debate about the mind-body problem. At the time, this was fortunate because there wasn’t a wealth of bespoke philosophy of psychiatry (not that I could bring myself to do quite or only that). Now with somewhere between 50-100 books published in the last 20 years by philosophers and by psychiatrists on what we thus call philosophy and psychiatry (and 30 years of PPP) it seems curious if actually Bill’s suggestion for what is really wanted remains true.