Biological Theory

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 144–152

Psychiatric Disorders qua Natural Kinds: The Case of the “Apathetic Children”

Thematic Issue Article: Natural Kinds: New Dawn?

DOI: 10.1007/s13752-012-0057-z

Cite this article as:
Godman, M. Biol Theory (2013) 7: 144. doi:10.1007/s13752-012-0057-z


In this article I examine some of the issues involved in taking psychiatric disorders as natural kinds. I begin by introducing a permissive model of natural kind-hood that at least prima facie seems to allow psychiatric disorders to be natural kinds. The model, however, hinges on there in principle being some grounding that is shared by all members of a kind, which explain all or most of the additional shared projectible properties. This leads us to the following question: what grounding do psychiatric disorders qua natural kinds have? My principal method for examining the issue is a case study of a particular psychiatric disorder: the so-called “apathetic children.” I argue that there appear to be at least two competing models that both appeal to non-organic a grounding of the disorder. However, for other psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the evidence points toward an organic explanation of the disorder. I contend that what unites psychiatric disorders is not a distinctive type of grounding that all psychiatric disorders share, but the distinctive set of determinable properties that is shared by all psychiatric disorders.


Alzheimer’s disease Grounding Ian Hacking Ruth Millikan Multiple projectibility Natural kinds Pervasive refusal syndrome Psychiatric disorders 

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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