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Psychiatry, objectivity, and realism about value 

Psychiatry, objectivity, and realism about value
Psychiatry, objectivity, and realism about value

Michael Loughlin

and Andrew Miles

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date: 27 January 2020

Discussions of psychiatric diagnosis are still beset by the suspicion that “value-judgments” are in some special sense “subjective.” Historically, the debate about the reality of mental illness has seen a divide between those who accept that diagnosis is “value-laden” and therefore accept a relativist/subjectivist account of mental illness, and those who deny the value-laden nature of diagnosis to defend the reality of mental illness. More nuanced analyses note that (a) all medical diagnosis is arguably value-laden, and (b) this does not imply that medical conditions are unreal. All judgment (about value or fact) requires a subject, but it does not follow that it is “subjective” in any sense implying ontological relativity. The implications are substantial: either all medical judgment is relative, or realism about value is true. To justify claims in diagnosis, we need to discuss and defend our value-judgments, embracing an openly value-laden account of human functioning.

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