Philosophy of Science Perspectives on Psychiatry for the Person

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Tim Thornton
Kenneth F. Schaffner


The WPA Program on Psychiatry for the Person calls for a more comprehensive approach to psychiatry in which conventional elements are combined with a specifically person centred extra ingredient. The World Psychiatric Association’s call to focus efforts on psychiatry for the person also coincides with proposals to revise both DSM and ICD taxonomies which are likely to stress the importance of improving their validity through the epistemic values exemplified in natural science. Thus the Program aims to balance a growing emphasis on the natural scientific underpinnings of psychiatry with an increased focus on the importance and role of the person.This proposal to balance natural science with the role of the person mirrors some of Karl Jaspers’ aims a century ago. At the turn of the century in Germany, psychiatry was dominated by academic neuroscientists working under the assumption, epitomised by the German psychiatrist Wilhelm Griesinger’s famous aphorism, that ‘Mental illnesses are brain illnesses’.Jaspers’ response was to stress the role of understanding in addition to explanation in psychiatry. This reflected the debate, called the Methodenstreit, about the correct methods for psychology in the late nineteenth century. Should the human sciences (the Geisteswissenschaften) attempt to copy the methods of the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften), or should they follow a distinct method or methods? Setting the development of the Program on Psychiatry for the Person against that background suggests the importance for it also of an understanding of the Methodenstreit.

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Special Section: Conceptual Bases of Psychiatry for the Person