Mad by design: Rethinking psychiatry outside dysfunction – Online

11 June 2020 - 17:00-18:15

Lecture: Justin Garson, Hunter College and the Graduate Center City University of New York

Online Videoconference (Zoom)

Registration: Please register at this link by 12pm on the 11th of June, to gain an access link. (All times are London BST / GMT+1)

(See this event also on Facebook)

Video Recording


We often think of the history of psychiatry as involving little more than a clash between two opposing “paradigms,” a biological (brain-based) and a psychological (mind-based) one. Here, I present a very different framework for thinking about psychiatry’s history; this is in terms of a clash between what I call “madness-as-dysfunction” and “madness-as-strategy” paradigms. According to the madness-as-dysfunction paradigm, when someone has a mental disorder it is because something in that person’s mind or brain cannot perform its function, goal, or job. Madness-as-strategy, on the contrary, sees at least some mental disorders as having a purpose or function for the individual: madness, here, is not the failure of a function, but its fulfillment. After elaborating this distinction, I sketch a way of rewriting psychiatry’s history in terms of this clash, from Renaissance thinkers such as Robert Burton to the evolutionary psychologists of today. Finally, I draw out some implications for current philosophical theorizing about psychiatry, and in particular, with respect to Wakefield’s influential evolutionary account of disorder.