Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

Official Journal of Crossing Dialogues

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

The official journal of Crossing Dialogues

Volume 2, Issue 1 (June 2009)


The concept of mental disorder and the DSM-V

Massimiliano Aragona

In view of the publication of the DSM-V researchers were asked to discuss the theoretical implications of the definition of mental disorders.
The reasons for the use, in the DSM-III, of the term disorder instead of disease are considered. The analysis of these reasons clarifies the distinction between the general definition of disorder and its implicit, technical meaning which arises from concrete use in DSM disorders. The characteristics and limits of this technical meaning are discussed and contrasted to alternative definitions, like Wakefield’s harmful/dysfunction analysis.
It is shown that Wakefield’s analysis faces internal theoretical problems in addition to practical limits for its acceptance in the DSM-V. In particular, it is shown that: a) the term dysfunction is not purely factual but intrinsically normative/evaluative; b) it is difficult to clarify what dysfunctions are in the psychiatric context (the dysfunctional mechanism involved being unknown in most cases and the use of evolutionary theory being even more problematic); c) the use of conceptual analysis and commonsense intuition to define dysfunctions leaves unsatisfied empiricists; d) it is unlikely that the authors of the DSM-V will accept Wakefield’s suggestion to revise the diagnostic criteria of any single DSM disorder in accordance with his analysis, because this is an excessively extensive change and also because this would probably reduce DSM reliability.
In conclusion, it is pointed up in which sense DSM mental disorders have to be conceived as constructs, and that this undermines the realistic search for a clear-cut demarcation criterion between what is disorder and what is not.

classification, nosology, nosography, phenomenology, conceptualization, theoretical construct, mental dysfunction

Dial Phil Ment Neuro Sci 2009; 2(1): 1-14

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Invited article
Received on November 14, 2008
Accepted on November 14, 2008
Firstly published online on June 15, 2009

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