Syllabus: On the Nature of Mental Illness


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Description: This syllabus contains 10 weeks of reading material on the question what mental disorders are. I hope this will be used as basis for forming reading groups, and can lead to seminars or lecture on the topic. In the PDF file, you can find (a) an overview of the course, (b) descriptions of the papers, and (c) some additional reading material. This list is preliminary, and I will update it regularly. In detail, the syllabus covers different theories about the nature of mental disorders, which – among others — have been conceptualized as brain disorders, emergent properties resulting from complex biopsychosocial processes, and dysregulated adaptive processes. These topics are embedded in the larger question what kinds of things psychiatric diagnoses are: natural kinds that exist in the world independently of human observation and need to be discovered (realism); practical kinds, a notion for which it does not matter if disorders are 'real' as long as they are clinically useful (instrumentalism); or social kinds that are constructed. Let me know if you have other papers you would like to see included here ( The manuscripts that are part of this syllabus are for academic purposes only and not intended for mass dissemination or copying.

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