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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2000 Oct;8(4):184-91.

Philosophy of mind in the clinic: the relation between causal and meaningful explanation in psychiatry.

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Consolidated Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Conceptual dichotomies between mind and brain, psychology and neuroscience, meaning and causation, and fact and value confound thinking in philosophy of mind, clinical psychiatry, and psychiatric ethics. Paul Churchland's theory of eliminative materialism highlights these dichotomies, stating that advances in neuroscience have restricted, and eventually will eliminate, any need for psychology. The core principles of this theory are questionable, because psychiatrists still need psychology and perhaps always will. The main argument in this essay is that even in cases of well-defined brain pathology (where eliminative materialism seems most plausible), psychological concepts remain critical. Thus, philosophers and psychiatrists should generate conceptual models that lead not to eliminativism but to explanatory pluralism, which is the pragmatic integration of diverse concepts toward the end of better handling clinical challenges. The contributions of Karl Jaspers in opposition to eliminative materialism and in support of pluralism are discussed. Jaspers delineated the role of meaningful psychological explanation in a psychiatry rooted in neuroscientific explanation. However, his notion that meaningful states do not have causal power is disputable and has come under fire in recent philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience, which highlight the possibility that meaningful psychological states can be causally significant. This idea has implications for psychiatric ethics and the fact/value debate.

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