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The metaphor of mental illness 

The metaphor of mental illness
The metaphor of mental illness

Neil Pickering

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date: 03 April 2020

The different possible ways of thinking of the phenomena around us are marked out in part by our categories, classifications, and kinds. These categories are made up of the religious, social, moral, and political and of the scientific, mechanical, and causal. We take the kinds of interests represented by these categories in such matters as madness, and make it in the image of those interests. In the case of psychiatry, what makes it a scientific endeavour and what makes mental illness an object of that endeavour, is that psychiatry makes mental illness in non-social categories.

This position is, I believe, consistent with what is right in the strong programme in the sociology of knowledge. That is to say, it is consistent with what that programme can plausibly show, if not consistent with what it actually claims. It claims to show that political, economic, moral ideas are reproduced in scientific and other disciplines (including philosophy). But when we look carefully at the nature of this reproduction we see that it does not get as far as breaking down the distinction between the scientific and the social. There continues to be a case for a dualism. This dualism is perhaps less between the product of nature and the product of the social (the dualism of Latour's modern), and more between scientific resources and materials and social resources and materials. I would base my claim not to be a sceptic on the foundation of a dualism of this sort.

So, in the end, as I understand it, the strong programme is not a threat to my position. I can happily concur with what it can plausibly claim about the role of the social, while not being logically committed to anything more sceptical.

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