Psychiatry as a Hybrid Discipline

  • G. E. BerriosEmail author
Part of the Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences book series (THHSS)


Developed along an extraordinarily creative life, Rom Harré’s views on both the natural and social sciences can also illuminate the problems of Psychiatry. Constructed during the early 19th century, Psychiatry was from the start a hybrid discipline, that is, a conceptual cento made from fragments taken from philosophy, history, psychology, rhetoric, the nascent sociology and the neurosciences. Pulled in all directions by the very disciplines that once lent it support, Psychiatry still yearns to develop its proprietary epistemology (Berrios and Marková in Re-visioning psychiatry. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 41–64, 2016). As his doctoral supervisee at Oxford, I learnt from Rom that the first step when dealing with the epistemological teething troubles of an inchoate discipline is to identify the models (Rothbart in Modeling: gateway to the unknown. A work by Rom Harré. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2004) and powers (Harré in Dispositions. Reidel, Dordrecht, pp 211–233, 1970) that help it to legitimize its claims and activities. As an homage to this quasi-eternal thinker, I will outline one aspect of the work carried out by the Epistemology of Psychiatry Group in Cambridge that connects well with Rom’s ideas, namely the conceptualization of ‘mental illness’.


Psychiatry Hybrid discipline Epistemology Models and powers 


  1. Ackerknecht, E. (1967). Medicine at the Paris hospital 1794–1848. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aragona, M., & Marková, I. S. (2015). The hermeneutics of mental symptoms in the Cambridge School. Revista Latinoamericana de Psicopatologia Fundamental, 18, 599–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beebee, H., & Sabbarton-Leary, N. (2010). The semantics and metaphysics of natural kinds. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berrios, G. E. (1988). Historical background to abnormal psychology. In E. Miller & J. Cooper (Eds.), Adult abnormal psychology (pp. 26–51). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.Google Scholar
  5. Berrios, G. E. (1994). Historiography of mental systems and diseases. History of Psychiatry, 5, 175–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berrios, G. E. (1996). The history of mental symptoms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berrios, G. E. (1999). Classification in psychiatry: a conceptual history. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 33, 145–160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Berrios, G. E. (2006). Mind in General and Sir A. Crichton. History of Psychiatry, 17, 469–486.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Berrios, G. E. (2008). Baillarger’s Essay on a classification of different genera of insanity (1853). History of Psychiatry, 19, 358–373.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Berrios, G. E. (2011). Convergences that are no more. History of Psychiatry, 22, 133–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Berrios, G. E. (2018). Historical epistemology of the body-mind interaction in psychiatry. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 20, 5–12.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Berrios, G. E., & Marková, I. S. (2002). Conceptual issues. In H. D’Haenen, J. A. den Boer, & P. Willner (Eds.), Biological psychiatry (pp. 9–39). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Berrios, G. E., & Marková, I. S. (2006). Symptoms—historical perspectives and effect on diagnosis. In M. Blumenfiels & J. J. Strain (Eds.), Psychosomatic medicine (pp. 27–38). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar
  14. Berrios, G. E., & Marková, I. (2016). Towards a new epistemology of psychiatry. In L. J. Kirmayer, R. Lemson, & C. A. Cummings (Eds.), Re-visioning psychiatry (pp. 41–64). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Boorse, C. (1975). On the distinction between disease and illness. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 5, 40–68.Google Scholar
  16. Canguilhem, G. (1966). Le normal et le pathologique. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  17. Caplan, A. L., Engelhardt, H. T., & McCartney, J. J. (Eds.). (1981). Concepts of health and disease. London: Addison.Google Scholar
  18. Chalmers, A. (Ed.). (1994). Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language (first published in 1756). London: Studio Editions.Google Scholar
  19. Chamberet, J. B. (1818). Maladie. Dictionaire des sciences médicales (Vol. 30, pp. 172–203). Paris: Panckoucke.Google Scholar
  20. Cooper, R. (2002). Disease. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and the Biomedical Sciences, 33, 263–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cooter, R. J. (1979). Phrenology and british alienists, c. 1825–1845. Medical History, 20, 1–21; 135–151.Google Scholar
  22. Fuentenebro, F. Y., & Berrios, G. E. (1995) The predelusional state. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 36, 251–259.Google Scholar
  23. Gadamer, H. G. (1996). The enigma of health. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gall, F. J., & Spurzheim, G. (1811). Des dispositions innées de l’âme et de l‘esprit. Paris: Schoell.Google Scholar
  25. Harré, R. (1970). Powers. In R. Tuomela (Ed.), Dispositions (pp. 211–233). Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  26. Marková, I. S., & Berrios, G. E. (1995). Mental symptoms: Are they similar phenomena? The problem of symptom heterogeneity. Psychopathology, 28, 147–157.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Marková, I. S., & Berrios, G. E. (2009). Epistemology of mental symptoms. Psychopathology, 42, 343–349.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Norès, J. M. (1996). La maladie et le problème du mal. Thèse de l’Université Paris V, René Descartes, Paris.Google Scholar
  29. Riese, W. (1950). La pensée causale en médecine. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  30. Riese, W. (1953). The conception of disease. New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar
  31. Rothbart, D. (Ed.). (2004). Modeling: gateway to the unknown. A work by Rom Harré. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  32. Rothschuh, K. E. (1973). History of physiology (G. B. Risse, Trans.). New York: Krieger.Google Scholar
  33. Sendrail, M. (1980). Histoire culturelle de la maladie. Paris: Privat.Google Scholar
  34. Swain, G. (1978). l’aliéné entre le médecin et le philosophe. Perspectives Psychiatriques, 65, 90–99.Google Scholar
  35. Taylor, F. K. (1979). The concepts of illness, disease, and morbus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Uttal, W. R. (2001). The new phrenology. The limits of localizing cognitive processes in the brain. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Wakefield, J. C. (1992). The concept of mental disorder. American Psychologist, 47, 373–388.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Watts, S. (2003). Disease and medicine in world history. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cambridge UniversityCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations