Tijdschrift voor Filosofie vol:72 issue:1 pages:7-39
Psychiatry tends to make order out of disorder. Although mental disorders are not natural kinds, many psychiatrists still conceive of mental disorders as discrete entities with a distinct and primarily biological etiology. To a certain extent, such psychiatric essentialism is shared by lay people as well. In this paper, we explicate what the natural kind view of mental disorders amounts to, and why it is implausible. Most importantly, however, we spell out a number of factors that account for the success of the natural kind view in scientific and popular thinking, despite its being ontologically flawed. Building upon recently developed theories about ‘folk biology’ and ‘psychological essentialism’, we argue that different historical processes have homogenized psychiatric populations, thereby making these populations prone to trigger the folk biology module and its essentializing mechanisms.