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Extraordinary Science and PsychiatryResponses to the Crisis in Mental Health Research$
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Jeffrey Poland and Serife Tekin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035484

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035484.001.0001

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The Shift to Mechanistic Explanation and Classification

The Shift to Mechanistic Explanation and Classification

(p.163) 8 The Shift to Mechanistic Explanation and Classification
Extraordinary Science and Psychiatry

Kelso Cratsley

The MIT Press

Despite widespread recognition that psychiatry would be better served by a classificatory system based on etiology rather than mere description, it goes without saying that much of the necessary work is yet to be done. Most of it will be empirical, but there are also conceptual issues that need to be addressed. In this chapter I take up the increasingly important question of how mechanistic explanation fits into the larger effort to build a scientifically sound etiological and nosological framework for psychiatry. I sketch a rough picture of what mechanistic explanation should look like in the context of psychiatric research, with a focus on several potential challenges posed by the special features of many psychiatric conditions. These include the role of social and environmental factors, the relatively transient nature of symptoms, the presumably complex organization of underlying systems, and the likelihood that many disorders are the product of a nonstandard developmental course. I suggest that these explanatory challenges can be met with a sufficiently broad notion of mechanism, one that allows for something less than the flawless execution of internal operations, attends to organizational relations both within the mechanism itself and across the wider cognitive system, and appeals to the influence of contextual factors.

Keywords:   Classification, Psychiatry, Mechanism, mechanistic explanation, levels of explanation

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