‘Theory of incomprehensibility’ – the social and biological determinants of mental disorders
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Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology at the Marie Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland
Ann Agric Environ Med. 2013;20(4):832–837
Karl Jaspers’ theory on the incomprehensibility of psychotic disorders has become the reference point for many critical studies in the field of contemporary psychopathology. According to Jaspers, it is impossible to understand any of the serious mental disorders often referred to as ‘psychosis’ because of their unreasonableness, a truth that is revealed when one attempts to empathize with the mental states of patients afflicted with a particular mental disorder. These elements are psychologically inaccessible and closed to any form of empathy. The theory of incomprehensibility is the starting point for many contemporary discussions on the nature of mental illness. It refers to the pathogenic causes of mental disorder and, at the same time, leads to the marginalization of ‘pathoplastic’ – personal, family related and environmental factors responsible for mental distress. The presented article criticizes the theory of incomprehensibility in light of the contemporary discussion within the (new) philosophy of psychiatry about the role and function of psychiatry and psychopathology. Many authors criticize the theory of incomprehensibility, particularly its implications for understanding and explaining mental disorders. The views presented in the article – post-psychiatry, the psychiatry of common sense, the socio-cultural approach and engaged epistemology/embodied cognition – aim to reveal the broader dimensions of human pathological experience. Particularly appreciated by the author, engaged epistemology and embodied cognition aim to connect social and experiential points of view with the more scientific neuropsychiatric research, and refer to the hidden levels of our experience while always placing such elements in the social context, as well as describing human pathological symptoms against this social background. The basic aim of the presented paper is to stress the need for a review of dogmatic assumptions on the nature of mental illness, and to discuss the possibility of explaining the mental and neurobiological aspects of psychopathology within the social and experiential context.
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