Back to Christian Perring's Courses Page

PHL 142A: Philosophy of Psychiatry and Psychology

Dr. Christian Perring

Dowling College Spring 2000 Thursdays 5.30-8.10pm
CRN 24288
RC 422

Office: 330A RC  Office Phone: 244-3349
Class web page:

Prerequisites: Any two classes in Philosophy, Psychology, Anthropology, or Sociology.

The class will aim to give students both knowledge and skills, combining different approaches, including conceptual analysis, multidisciplinary study, the search for reflective equilibrium in careful consideration of case studies, and use of well-established theories in ethics and metaphysics. Students will learn about important metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and social issues in psychiatry and psychology. Topics covered will range from what psychopathology tells us about the nature of the self to the rights of people with severe mental illnesses. The skills students should gain will be of two main sorts: first, being able to come to their own well-reasoned personal opinions about the issues in question; and second, knowing how to come to a resolution of a practical problem involving an ethical dilemma in a real life situation.

We will discuss the interrelated metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and social issues that arise in trying to understand and treat mental illness. The metaphysical issues include the unity of the self and freedom of the will. Epistemological issues include the diagnosis of mental disorder, and knowing when people are competent to understand the moral and legal consequences of their actions. Ethical issues include the rights of people with mental disorders to get treatment or to refuse it. Finally, social issues include the medicalization of deviant behavior, and the effects of the mental health profession on society. Throughout the course, we will compare popular thought about mental illness with what the experts say, as a way of gaining a critical perspective on both.

Philosophy of Psychiatry links page

% of grade Work
4% Attendance: You are allowed to miss one class without excuse. For each extra class you miss without documented excuse, you lose 2%. This grade can go into the negative!
10% Class participation. You should be an active member of class, doing the reading ahead of time, contributing to class discussions, and letting me know if you do not understand so I can explain ideas further.
6% Journals-6, one every two weeks.  These should be about 300-500 words, discussing your concerns about the class, ideas and questions that occur to you in class that you donít have the opportunity to raise, personal reflections on the issues we discuss, or any other feedback relevant to the class. They can be handwritten, typed, or e-mailed to me. 
10% Presentation. 10-15 minute presentation on a topic relevant to the class, related to your paper topic. It is a good idea to use visual aids, such as videos, Powerpoint, or posters.  See the form that I use to evaluate your presentation. Your presentation can be related to your paper topic. 
10 % Presentation Write-Up.  After giving your presentation, you also need to write it up and submit it to me on disk or by e-mail.  You need to submit it within 2 class days of giving it.  It should be about 1000-1500 words.  Your write-up should include
  • The main points of your presentation
  • Important facts or statistics related to your presentation.
  • A summary of the feedback you got on your presentation
  • Your reaction and response to the feedback.
  • A complete list of your sources of information (books, articles, web sites)
5% Test 1. Short answer 
10% Test 2. Short answer 
10% Test 3. Short answer 
10% Pape r- Draft  (2500-3000 words 10-12 pages).  Must include bibliography and detailed references.
25% Paper - Final version.  (4000-5000 words, ~16-20 pages) .   Must include bibliography and detailed references.
Required texts:
$10 Off at Varsity
Purchasing from benefits the Dowling Philosophy Department
iconAbnormal Psychology in Context
Abnormal Psychology in Contexticon
iconEthics of Psychiatry
Ethics of Psychiatryicon
iconMental Health and Social Policy
Mental Health and Social Policyicon

Course outline.

This course is distinctive because it is "bottom-up" in its approach: it starts from the issues that arise in clinical reality rather than those that appear from more abstract theoretical approaches. Note for instance that the course does not start with psychoanalysis, reactions to psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, post-modernism, antipsychiatry, or existentialism. This will make it easier for students to relate their personal experience to the issues. Using detailed case histories and specific examples, students will learn to analyze cases on their own to see the philosophical and ethical assumptions involved in psychiatric practice.
Week Topic Specific issues to be discussed Work to be done Reading
Feb 3 Introduction Outline of course.  The Mind-Body Problem and Reductionism Personal Information Sheet to be completed, give preferences for focuses of course.
Feb 10 A Lightning-Fast History of Psychiatry The treatment of the mentally ill in past centuries; "moral reform,"psychoanalysis, behaviorism, psychopharmacology, deinstitutionalization MHSP Chs 1&2; EP Szsz p. 22
Feb 17 Advertising Psychotropic Drugs Talk by Dr. Jonathan Metzl Journal due
Feb 24 Depression and the Definition of Mental Disorder: Social Consequences History of Depression APC Ch 4 Wurtzl
Mar 2 Creativity and Madness Is creativity linked to mania? Does treatment of mania necessarily decrease creativity? Journal due APC Ch 4 Jamison
Mar 9 The Insanity Defense and the Abuse Excuse When should the mentally ill be held legally responsible for their criminal actions? Test 1 APC Ch 7; EP Section 6
Mar 17 Encouraging, Coercing, and Forcing Treatment What steps should society take to insist that the mentally ill get treatment? When do they have the right to refuse treatment? Journal due APC Ch 5 Hermes & Styron; EP Section 5
Mar 24 Gender and the Contradictions of Culture How are eating disorders linked to the portrayal of beauty in popular culture? What are the responsibilities of the media?  Does categorizing the problems of women as mental disorders such as PMS and behavior disorders cause more harm than good? Are any categories of current mental disorders sexist? Must finalize paper topic APC Ch 12 Costin; EP  Caplan pp 156-165,
pp. 246-281 
Mar 30 Ethics in the professional-patient relationship What are the ethical and legal obligations of mental health professionals to their patients and to society when they have reason to believe a patient may be dangerous?  Test 2; Journal due EP Section 3
Apr 13 Freewill and Responsibility I: Uncontrollable Desires Is alcoholism really a disease? Do addicts not have control over their actions? Is there any evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous helps to prevent relapse? Is abstinence really necessary? What about other "addictions" to food, love, sex, shopping, work, and the Internet? Paper Draft Due
Journal due
Drafts returned with suggestions for revision
APC Ch 9; EP Wright pp. 130-134
Apr 27 Freewill and Responsibility II: When the Person is the Disorder Personality disorders: can we distinguish between bad and mad, nasty and crazy? Test 3 APC Ch 8
May 4 Insurance, Managed Care, and National Health Should mental illnesses have parity of health coverage with other diseases? Should health insurance and managed care cover long-term therapy or medication for people who are able to cope? Should they cover the expensive new drugs for major mental illness? Journal due
Final paper due

Students are encouraged to become familiar with the representation and discussion of mental illness in large-circulation newspapers and magazines, popular psychology and self-help books, TV and film.

For a list of books relevant to this course, see my Philosophy of Psychiatry Bibliography, available on the Internet at