Skip to main content
Book cover

Psychopathy pp 101–119Cite as

In Fieri Kinds: The Case of Psychopathy

  • 311 Accesses

Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL,volume 27)


We examine the philosophical and empirical issues related to the question whether psychopathy can be considered a psychiatric natural kind. Natural kinds refer to categories that are privileged because they the capture certain real divisions in nature. Generally, in philosophical debates regarding psychiatry, there is much scepticism about the possibility that psychiatric categories track natural kinds. We outline the main positions in the debate about natural kinds in psychiatry and examine whether psychopathy can be considered as a natural kind on any of the proposed accounts. By examining the scientific literature on psychopathy, we draw two main conclusions: (1) the empirical data currently do not support the view that this condition is unified enough to be considered a natural kind; (2) the construct of psychopathy plays useful roles both in the context of scientific research and in forensic and clinical settings. These considerations bring us to our tentative conclusion about psychopathy as a kind in the making, a sort of “under construction” category with potential for improvement and refinement with further research.


  • Psychiatric kinds
  • Natural kinds
  • Theoretical constructs
  • Epistemic values
  • Cluster kinds
  • Psychopathy

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-82454-9_7
  • Chapter length: 19 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-030-82454-9
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Hardcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)


  1. 1.

    Chemistry is often invoked as a domain of paradigmatic essentialist kinds, but even this has recently been under scrutiny.

  2. 2.

    However, in Sect. 7.3 we will see that constructs that exhibit a high co-instantiation of clustering traits which can be construed as discontinuous from other clusters are characterized by behavioural scientists as taxons, something which can be taken as corresponding to a natural kinds, at least on some interpretations.

  3. 3.

    Another potential reason for why psychiatric categories cannot be considered as natural kinds is put forward by Ian Hacking. He refers to the so-called “looping effect”, associated with human kinds (see Hacking, 1996). In his view, human kinds are characterized by the looping effects, i.e., the classifications of humans into kinds can change what gets classified (either because we become aware of the classification in question or because we generally respond to being treated differently, even without knowing about the classification). This, in turn, can loop back to change the classification in question. Hacking does not specify what condition traditionally associated with natural kinds is incompatible with the looping of human kinds. Rather, he just claims that natural kinds are supposed to be “indifferent” (Hacking, 1999), i.e., they do not change in response to our classificatory efforts. We will not discuss here whether this objection to the natural kinds status can be subsumed under the mind-dependence reason against psychiatric natural kinds, but does appear close to reason (2).

  4. 4.

    Essentialism is a typical view of this sort.

  5. 5.

    Even if there are psychiatric conditions where we can circumscribe their natural boundaries, i.e., where no human decisions are required as to where to draw the line between different symptoms, behaviors constituting the condition, this does not undermine the fact that most psychiatric conditions are not of this type. Hence, our decisions where to draw the line become relevant. Accordingly, any account that aims at capturing a relevant amount of psychiatric categories will allow for our influence within the classifying activity.

  6. 6.

    Epistemic (or cognitive values) such as predictive accuracy, scope, unification, explanatory power, simplicity, coherence with other accepted theories, etc. Non-epistemic (non-cognitive or contextual) values are moral, personal, social, political and cultural ones (see Reiss, & Sprenger, 2014).

  7. 7.

    It needs to be noted, however, that Varga calls “relaxed” all the non-essentialist accounts of kinds, but here we take as relaxed only those that are less demanding than the cluster accounts. The reasoning behind this is that in psychiatry many disorders do not fit the cluster demand. Thus, the “relaxing” condition should go beyond the cluster accounts.

  8. 8.

    The received view is that functional kinds are not candidates for natural kinds (see, for, instance Fodor, 1974), but as we can see in this strand of the debate, there are exceptions to such a view.

  9. 9.

    At least as they are standardly presented in the literature.

  10. 10.

    As we will see in the next section, and also in the chapters in this part, as far as the conditions as complex as psychopathy are concerned, even science reporting becomes a challenging task, since there is no clear scientific consensus concerned with the status of psychopathy as a scientific category.

  11. 11.

    One might argue, however, that the severity of social consequences involved in labeling someone a psychopath requires stronger grounding then for most psychiatric categories.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zdenka Brzović .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2022 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Brzović, Z., Šustar, P. (2022). In Fieri Kinds: The Case of Psychopathy. In: Malatesti, L., McMillan, J., Šustar, P. (eds) Psychopathy. History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences, vol 27. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-82453-2

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-82454-9

  • eBook Packages: MedicineMedicine (R0)