Depression, Folk Psychiatry and the Task for 4E Philosophy of Psychiatry

Avant, Vol. XI, No. 1, doi: 10.26913/avant.2020.01.02
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Maja Białek
University of Białystok, Poland
m.bialek @

Published 9 December 2019   Download full text

Abstract: The aim of my paper is to define three key problems concerning depression and to show how phenomenological and 4E theories of depression can be used to help us with them. I employ the Sellarsian concept of a synoptic view—a good synoptic view of depression should bring together the manifest image (“folk psychiatry”) and the scientific image. The first problem is that currently there exist serious gaps in both images—our mainstream conceptions of depression are lacking and their reception by the general public is oversimplified and overoptimistic. The second problem is that the explanatory needs of the general public regarding depression could not ever be satisfied by the current scientific image— as I show using the case-study of the enthusiastic reception of Mira Marcinów’s 2017 book presenting the often outlandish 19th century Polish theories of depression. It turns out that certain outdated but vivid terms and ideas concerning melancholy actually may be more helpful in many ways than what current biomedical psychiatry has to offer. The third problem is how to rectify the first problem given the existence of the second problem—that is, how to make space for a less biomedical and reductionist approach to depression without risking an overly skeptical, anti-scientific turn within folk-psychiatry. I conclude that although phenomenological and embodied theories could not ever directly influence the manifest image of depression, they need to be included within the scientific image—and then they could become the perfect basis for a truly synoptic view.

Keywords:  depression; folk psychiatry; 4E psychiatry; history of psychiatry; reductionism in psychiatry


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