Does autism merit belief?:Developing an account of scientific realism for psychiatry

Fellowes, Sam (2017) Does autism merit belief?:Developing an account of scientific realism for psychiatry. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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The PhD outlines criteria under which a psychiatric classification merits belief and, as a case study, establishes that autism merits belief. Three chapters respond to anti-realist arguments, three chapters establish conditions under which psychiatric classifications merit belief. Chapter one addresses the pessimistic meta-induction. I historically analyse autism to show there has been sufficient historical continuity to avoid the pessimistic meta induction. Chapter two considers arguments from underdetermination. I consider the strongest candidate for an alternative to autism, classificatory changes which occurred between 1980 and 1985. I argue this does not constitute underdetermination because those changes were methodologically and evidentially flawed. Chapter three considers theory-ladenness. I consider the two strongest candidates for background theories which might have a negative epistemic effect (cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis). I show these have little influence on what symptoms are formulated or how symptoms are grouped together. Chapter four argues against psychiatric classifications as natural kinds and against notions that inductive knowledge of psychiatric classifications requires robust causes. I outline psychiatric classifications as scientific laws. They are high level idealised models which guide construction of lower level, more specific, models. This opens alternative routes to belief for psychiatric classification lacking robust causes. Chapter five shows that psychiatric classifications can set relevant populations for deriving statistically significant symptoms. The same behaviour can count as statistically significant for one psychiatric classification but not another. I argue this process strengthens psychiatric classifications inductively, thus contributing to belief. Chapter six bases belief on theoretical virtues. Unifications and causation are the two main theoretical virtues. Autism strongly exhibits unifications, stringently covering a wide range of otherwise unrelated symptoms. Additionally, emphasising causation may reduce unifications and thus reduce belief. Attributing unifications is reliable because autism is accessible without employing extremely complicated experimental processes and relies upon secure background theories.

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Thesis (PhD)
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24 Apr 2017 08:46
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:22