AP/PHIL4085 3.0 M: Philosophy of Psychiatry

Offered by: PHIL


Winter 2020






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

Explores contemporary analytic and existential/phenomenological work to understand: 1) the role of values in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment; 2) the meaning of a mentally disordered person's experiences, beliefs and utterances; 3) conceptual and scientific foundations of psychiatry; 4) ethical issues pertaining to psychiatric research and care. Prerequisite: At least nine credits in philosophy.

Course Website

Many courses utilize Moodle, York University's course website system. If your course is using Moodle, refer to the image below to access it.

    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details

Office Location:  S428 Ross Building
Phone Number:  (416) 736-2100 Ext. 33522
Office Hour:  I will be available every Monday from 10:30 until 11:30. I am also available during the week by appointment.

    Expanded Course Description

Is schizophrenia a brain disease or is it better understood as a troubled mode of being-in-the-world? There has been a recent growth in philosophy of psychiatry that draws heavily on two philosophic traditions. Analytic philosophy is applied to better understand psychiatry through an analysis of its fundamental concepts. There is much unease about these concepts and the extent to which some of them are equivocal as between moral and biomedical interpretations. Indeed, this unease runs through the concept of mental disorder itself. [1] The phenomenological/existential tradition is applied to better understand the lived experience of those diagnosed with mental disorders and to compliment a neuroscientific, brain-based analysis of biochemical causation. Schizophrenic pathology might make greater sense if we see it as a response to a personal type of suffering that is mediated by the network of interpersonal relations with which the schizophrenic must cope.


Many philosophers attempt utilize these traditions as frameworks for collaboration by which the split between humanistic and biological models of psychiatry might be overcome. The established biological model of psychiatry is premised on the viewpoint that “mental disorders” have a causal basis in specific biochemical and physico-functional irregularities of the brain. It minimizes the relevance of lived experience in favour of a detached, often reductionist, third-person emphasis on biochemical etiology. The humanistic model of psychiatry aims to reclaim the lived experience of mental disorder as an explanandum in its own right. An emerging idea in the philosophy of psychiatry is that knowledge of neurobiological processes and a method of phenomenological description that stays close to the lived experience of mentally disordered persons might complement each other in research and treatment. Hence the growing interest in making connections between neuroscientific findings about the brain and phenomenological descriptions of experience that would integrate the biological as an aspect of a patient’s lived experience that “does not assume explanatory power for the totality of that patient’s life.”[2] This course will explore current work from both philosophical traditions in an attempt to better understand four areas of interest: 1) the role of moral values in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment; 2) the limits of our ability to understand the meaning of a mentally disordered person’s experiences, beliefs and utterances; 3) the conceptual, normative and scientific foundations of psychiatry and 4) ethical and epistemological issues pertaining to psychiatric research and pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic treatments.

[1] K.W.M. Fulford, Katherine J. Morris, John Z. Sadler, and Giovanni Stanghellini, “Past Improbable, Future Possible: The Renaissance in Philosophy and Psychiatry,” in Nature and Narrative: An Introduction to the New Philosophy of Psychiatry, eds. K.W.M. Fulford, Katherine J. Morris, John Z. Sadler, and Giovanni Stanghellini (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 10. See also Natalie Banner and Tim Thornton, “The New Philosophy of Psychiatry: Its Recent Past, Present and Future: A Review of the Oxford University Press Series International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry,” Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2 (2007): 1-14.


[2] Larry Davidson, “Developing an Empirical Phenomenological Approach to Schizophrenia Research.”

Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 23 (1992): 3–15.






    Required Course Text / Readings

All required readings are either contained in the course kit available at the University Bookstore or available online. The latter articles are electronically accessible through the Yorku Libraries Catalogue. You will need your Yorku Username and Password. Call up the journal in the Yorku Library Catalogue and click on Electronic access. The syllabus lists supplementary readings for every seminar. These readings are optional. They expand upon key ideas that emerge in the seminars and may assist you in compiling a bibliography for your major paper. All supplementary readings are available online or in the Scott Library.

    Weighting of Course

Seminar Presentation: 15%. Presentation dates will be assigned by the second seminar.

Major Paper Outline with Bibliography (8-10 pages max, double-spaced, not including bibliography): 25%.  It is due in class on Mon. Feb. 3.

Major Paper (15-20 pages max, double-spaced, exclusive of bibliography): 60%.

It is due in class on Mon. Mar. 23.

These essays must be argumentative. See the Essay Writing Handbook for Philosophy Students posted on the Course Website.

Grading:  The grading scheme for the course conforms to the 9-point grading system used in undergraduate programs at York (e.g., A+ = 9, A = 8, B+ - 7, C+ = 5, etc.).  Assignments and tests* will bear either a letter grade designation or a corresponding number grade (e.g.  A+ = 90 to 100, A = 80 to 90, B+ = 75 to 79, B 70 to 74, C+ 65 to 69, C 60 to 64, D+ 55 to 59, D 50 to 54, E 40 to 49 and F is anything below 40).

For a full description of York grading system see the York University Undergraduate Calendar - http://calendars.registrar.yorku.ca/pdfs/ug2004cal/calug04_5_acadinfo.pdf.

The Senate Grading Scheme and Feedback Policy stipulates that  (a) the grading scheme (i.e. kinds and weights of assignments, essays, exams, etc.) be announced, and be available in writing, within the first two weeks of class, and that, (b) under normal circumstances, graded feedback worth at least 15% of the final grade for Fall, Winter or Summer Term, and 30% for ‘full year’ courses offered in the Fall/Winter Term be received by students in all courses prior to the final withdrawal date from a course without receiving a grade (see the policy for exceptions to this aspect of the policy - http://www.yorku.ca/secretariat/legislation/senate/gradfeed.htm

Late Penalties:

Written assignments must be submitted to me on time. Late submissions will be penalized 5% per day. I will not accept submissions via e-mail. Hard copies must be submitted to me in class or in my office. If submitted late, they must be dated and left in the drop box in the Philosophy Dept. on the 4th floor of the South Ross Building. In exceptional cases (e.g., serious illness with proper and legible documentation from a physician), I may exercise discretion and waive the late penalty.

    Organization of the Course


    Course Learning Objectives

* To understand how analytic and existential/phenomenological traditions in philosophy are applied to the analysis of basic psychiatric concepts as well as the problems of value, meaning and fact that this medical discipline presents.

* To understand competing models of psychiatry.

*To understand competing modes of psychiatric treatment

* To understand key conceptual and methodological issues in psychiatric research.

    Additional Information / Notes

Academic Integrity:

I take academic integrity very seriously. I require that you be honest about submitting your own work and that you cite your sources with accuracy. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. We will review parts of the Yorku Academic Integrity tutorial in class. I strongly urge you to do it on your own and discuss your results with me. To do so, go to the Academic Integrity web site at York University (http://www.yorku.ca/academicintegrity), to read the section ‘For Students’, and to complete the Academic Integrity Tutorial:


The tutorial is designed to help you learn about central aspects of academic integrity. It explores plagiarism and related matters with excellent examples and supportive strategies. It will aid you in your academic endeavors and help you to avoid breaching the Senate Policy on Academic Honesty.

I will not grade a paper unless I am satisfied that the academic honesty requirements have been met. I use Turnitin.com to verify this and will provide instructions for submission on the Moodle course website.

    Relevant Links / Resources