Kinds or Tails?
Kinds or Tails?
Are psychiatric syndromes the tails of traits distributed over the general population or do they form distinct kinds or taxa? For instance, do individuals suffering from depression form a distinct kind or rather are they the tail of the distribution of neuroticism in the general population? Do people suffering from delusions form a distinct kind or rather are they individuals with an extreme openness to experience? Before being able to answer such questions, we must address a preliminary question: How would we know whether psychiatric syndromes should be treated as taxa or as the tails of distributions defined over the general population? To address this preliminary epistemological question, I first contrast informal methods (e.g., clinical judgment) and formal methods (e.g., cluster analysis), arguing for the superiority of the latter. I then examine some of the formal methods developed in taxometrics, including cluster analysis and Paul Meehl’s taxometric procedures (e.g., MAXCOV or MAMBAC), in order to understand what assumptions about kinds or taxa are built into them.
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