Biological Theory

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 144–152 | Cite as

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

  • Marion GodmanEmail author
Thematic Issue Article: Natural Kinds: New Dawn?


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 



Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at a philosophy of psychiatry workshop in Birmingham (June 2010) and at the “Natural Kinds in Philosophy and in the Life Sciences Workshop in Granada” (September 2011). I am grateful to all the participants for the useful discussions and I am especially indebted to Lisa Bortolotti, Rachel Cooper, Thomas Reydon, and Miles MacLeod for invitations to present my work. I wish to thank Bryan Lask for an invaluable discussion about the Swedish case and Pervasive Refusal Syndrome in general. Thanks also to Martin Bellander for a careful and insightful reading into the psychiatric, psychological, and philosophical aspects of the disorder. Finally, I would like to thank Gellert Tamas who first inspired me to probe further into this intriguing yet very sad case of the apathetic children.


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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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