Literalism is the heir of the search for an ancient Adamic language of “true names” in which names and things were thought to be in unity. The conceptual contrast that is of concern in this chapter is that between true versus literally true. After briefly listing some examples where this distinction can be made but is not always made, extended space is given to critically analyzing the claim that genes are literally recipes written in DNA in order to illustrate how endemic and un-noticed literalism can be in scientific discourse. Diagnostic literalism in psychiatry is sometimes termed reification. Three different “misplaced literalisms” that occur in psychiatric diagnosis and classification are literalism about taxa, literalism about diagnostic criteria, and literalism about explanatory constructs. All three of these literalisms are made more likely by our need to rely on authorities when deciding which truth claims to accept.
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