Friday, 23 October 2009

From the 2009 INPP conference in Lisbon

I am at the INPP conference in Lisbon enjoying, if not the sun I had expected, at least a packed schedule of plenary and parallel sessions from 9am until 8pm each day. The conference is well attended. Martin Baum is selling books from the OUP IPPP book series as though they were hot cakes. This is, I guess, the conference of the book series and a number of OUP authors are speaking.

As sometimes happens, I’ve enjoyed the short (perhaps too short in some cases) presentations rather more than the formal plenaries. (They happen in a huge formal hall which doesn’t make for interaction.)

Three, randomly picked such sessions, have been:

Jeffrey Bedrick argued that it was a mistake to worry about the nature of the concept of disorder in mental disorder. Instead one such concentrate on the mental and let that take care of disorder. In a Kantian tradition he argued that the mental is the realm of freedom. He then suggested that mental disorders are thus disorders of freedom.

Now if the premises were true, this last step would be analytic. But he wanted a little more. The scale of full freedom to its lack not only maps the mental to its opposite but also health to its opposite. Now that seems an interesting idea but I wondered why he assumed that freedom would deal with both issues. On the face of it, only particular kinds of failure of freedom would correspond to illness.

Dominic Murphy argued against something Rachel Cooper says in her most recent book. She says, I understood, that, in psychiatry, causal explanation is complemented by two distinct other forms: natural history explanations (Miffy is afraid of dogs because she is a rabbit) and case histories. But in a brisk presentation, Dom suggested that both additional forms are, however, not really distinct from causal explanation. Natural historical explanation works because it gestures at where one should look for causal explanation (and serves as a standard for purported natural kinds).

But I couldn’t help noticing that his argument presupposed the virtues of causal explanation and then used it causally to underpin natural historical explanation. It didn’t, in other words, address an opposition to such an underlying assumption about the importance of causal explanation such as a teleological view of natural historical explanation. But the real question I went away with was whether he aimed to undermine the idea of a distinct logic of explanation or whether it was more modestly that a different logic was, as a matter of fact, underpinned by causal connections.

Neil Pickering (pictured) used his 15 minutes to criticise a view he ascribed to Richard Gipps that mental illnesses are illnesses merely in secondary sense. His argument certainly helped to make that idea seem a desperate move. I’ll have to remind myself of what the argument for it might be. But one comment he made seems interesting. With the background thought that secondary sense is distinct from metaphor or simile because there are no shared features that justify it, he commented that a secondary extension of the use of a word is under no rational obligation.

That seems right, in the context of the contrast with simile, but less so without a codification of rationality. Isn’t it rational for those with minds like most of us to rebel against the substitution of synonyms in poetry, to treasure the picture of one’s beloved and so forth? I’m not sure. (I’m also not sure because a firm criterion here - ruling those out as instances of rationality - might come back to bite in the context of what following a rule isn’t: ie being gripped by a self-interpreting interpretation of a general rule.)

More generally, a few years ago when the INPP conference was organised by Gerrit Glas in Leiden I noticed the rise of ‘three e’ approach to the philosophy of mind within analytic philosophy: embodied, embedded, enactive. This year there has been a similar emphasis from within the phenomenological tradition on the role of the person and claims about the both upwards and downwards causation and the role of intersubjectivity in characterising individuals.

Over a coffee, Dariusz Galasinski expressed the worry that this might simply be a kind of cloak. Although presenting a comparatively rich picture of the person, the fact that it is still biologically based might be enough to justify, eg, drug interventions although now described as intervening in an embodied person rather just a body.

I didn’t have that suspicious reaction. But I have felt the lack of a right to this sort of approach. There’s been no reductionist opposition, no scrapping a satisfactory result of which would have given the picture some justification.

I have left until last one solitary but important session: the first at an INPP conference (I am told) organised by a mental health service user group. Jan Verhaegh, Service User Activist and member of the European Network of (ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP), held a workshop to address a number of questions but mainly how mental health service users, clinicians and philosophers could be brought into useful dialogue. It was pointed out by one member of the group that this discussion was held in a tiny windowless room in the basement whilst all the more luxurious rooms were occupied by other, obviously non mental health service user led, discussions. So, at the very least, one might aim for a higher priority in the future.

I can say that this is one of the aims for the next INPP conference in Manchester next year, organised by UCLan in conjunction with ENUSP. At the same, I also worry a little that we had better make the dialogue positive for all concerned otherwise the clinicians we would most want to engage may simply not come out of a kind of professional anxiety.

My own presentations are here: on the uncanny; on recovery; and on diverse logics.