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Open Access Open Badges Research

Defining mental disorder. Exploring the 'natural function' approach

Somogy Varga

Author Affiliations

Institute of Cognitive Science University of Osnabrueck Albrechtstr. 28. D-49069 Germany

Center for Subjectivity Research University of Copenhagen Njalsgade 140-142 DK-2300 Copenhagen S Denmark

Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2011, 6:1  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-6-1

Published: 21 January 2011


Due to several socio-political factors, to many psychiatrists only a strictly objective definition of mental disorder, free of value components, seems really acceptable. In this paper, I will explore a variant of such an objectivist approach to defining metal disorder, natural function objectivism. Proponents of this approach make recourse to the notion of natural function in order to reach a value-free definition of mental disorder. The exploration of Christopher Boorse's 'biostatistical' account of natural function (1) will be followed an investigation of the 'hybrid naturalism' approach to natural functions by Jerome Wakefield (2). In the third part, I will explore two proposals that call into question the whole attempt to define mental disorder (3). I will conclude that while 'natural function objectivism' accounts fail to provide the backdrop for a reliable definition of mental disorder, there is no compelling reason to conclude that a definition cannot be achieved.