Colloquium, Feb. 26

Speaker: Natalia Washington, University of Utah

Date/Time:  Friday, February 26th at 2:30pm via Zoom

Title: Taxonomy is Taxidermy: Thinking clearly about diagnostic kinds 


Clinical psychiatry has multiple, overlapping explanatory goals, just one of which is to classify individuals according to diagnostic kinds. In this paper, I address the question, what kinds of things are diagnostic kinds? and argue that diagnostic kinds are extended kinds—that they are real, and that their unique characters are partially and differentially determined by the cultural practices surrounding them. Of course, dependence on contingent social circumstance invites a worry about the stability of diagnostic categories, and our ability to latch onto them for the purpose of objective, empirical research. I call this the shifting sands problem. In answer to this problem, I argue that the variable nature of diagnostic categories is actually beneficial when we consider the multiple goals we need our nosology to serve. In fact, pluralism about diagnostic kinds—allowing different diagnostic categories to have different metaphysical grounds—can alleviate an age-old pressure to provide a taxonomy of mental disorders as a homogeneous kind. Further, it will turn out that this makes clinical psychiatry more similar to, and not distant from or inferior to the rest of medical practice.