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Compr Psychiatry. 1993 Jul-Aug;34(4):213-20.

Phenomenology and psychopathology: was there ever a relationship?

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, UK.


The philosophical doctrine known as phenomenology is believed by many to have provided during the early 20th century the conceptual basis of the new descriptive language of psychiatry, the very language that made possible the development of systems such as the DSM-III-R. To ascertain whether this is in fact the case is essential to the solution of technical problems affecting current psychopathological descriptions. This report argues against the above-mentioned belief, and suggests that the alliance between phenomenology and descriptive psychopathology was just a marriage of convenience, and that it was Karl Jaspers who made it appear as if his own views were based on Husserlian phenomenology. Indeed, a comparison of the clinical meaning and usage of mental symptoms before and after 1913 shows that Jaspers borrowed a great deal from 19th-century alienists, and that calling his views phenomenological added little to their meaning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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