Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry V – University of Copenhagen

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Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry V

The Problems of Multiple Levels, Explanatory Pluralism, Reduction and Emergence

Conference Dates:

May 28, 29 and 30, 2018


The Lundbeck foundation, Psychiatric Center Glostrup/University of Copenhagen, Center for Subjectivity Research/University of Copenhagen


Professor Josef Parnas and Professor Kenneth Kendler

Conference Content:  

For the fifth conference in this series we are exploring how the field of psychiatry incorporates more viable explanatory approaches than almost any other discipline in a modern university. Serious scholars have attempted to understand the causes of psychiatric illness from the perspective of molecular neurobiology, molecular genetics, cellular neurophysiology, systems neuroscience, neuropsychology, clinical psychology (including a wide diversity of theories incorporating an array of mental constructs such as personality, cognition, and unconscious processes), epidemiology, genetic-epidemiology, sociology, and anthropology. The last decades have seen increasingly sophisticated scientific paradigms that have suggested that many of these levels can indeed yield useful and empirically verifiable risk factors for psychiatric illness. A central conundrum of the field is how to integrate this cacophony of scientific perspectives. The list of 15 distinguished presenters is in a table below. (soon to follow)  

Proposed conference major themes: 

  1. The importance of reduction – under what circumstances are lower levels of explanation to be preferred? Is wholescale reduction possible or is it more realistic to pursue “small” or “patchy” reductive approaches?
  2. How is it best to conceive of the multiple “levels” at which psychiatric illness can be understood? Is “levels” even a useful term here?
  3. What are the advantages and problems of explanatory pluralism versus explanatory monism – when can we truly integrate results across “levels”?
  4. Given that levels of explanation in psychiatric cross the mind-body divide -- the subjective and objective worlds -- how can we best span these widely divergent perspectives on reality?
  5. A recent survey has shown that truly cross-level research in psychiatry is rare. Why is this and what scientific, cultural and financial barriers exist to more integrative approaches?
  6. Individual researchers and research groups often bring strong commitments to their perspective on psychiatric illness that derive from extra-scientific personal beliefs. Such approaches have often fueled ideological disputes in the field. How can we better understand and reduce such often wasteful debates?

List of Participants




Draft Lecture Topic

William Bechtel 

Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and a faculty member in the Center for Circadian Biology and the Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science

University of California, San Diego 

Circadian rhythms and mental disorders, especially depression and mania, that raises questions not just about reduction but also how to relate mechanisms at various levels of organization

John Campbell 

Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor of Philosophy

University of California at Berkeley

Understanding cross-level causation and the relative priority of mood and delusion, and whether that can be addressed by finding a biological basis for one or the other

Shaun Gallagher

Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Philosophy

University of Memphis

A pattern theory approach to psychiatric disorders; focus on different factors and their dynamical relations, rather than on different levels

Stephan Heckers

Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, William P. and Henry B. Test Chair in Schizophrenia Research, Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Do validators of psychiatric diagnoses converge? A focus on etiology
Kenneth S. Kendler Rachel Brown Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry
Professor of Human Genetics
Director, Psychiatric Genetics Research Program
Director, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics
Virginia Commonwealth University

Greg Miller

Distinguished Professor, Department Chair Department of Psychology University of California, Los Angeles 
Georg Northoff Canada Research Chair in Mind, Brain Imaging and Neuroethics, ELJB-CIHR
Michael Smith Chair in Neurosciences and Mental Health, Research Unit Director
Institute of Mental Health Research, University of Ottawa What provides the glue between different levels of explanation? A spatiotemporal approach - Philosophical reflection and neuroscientific investigation
Josef Parnas Professor Department of Neurology, Psychiatry and Sensory Sciences University of Copenhagen

Daniel Pine

Chief, Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience National Institute of Mental Health
Kenneth Schaffner Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Philosophy, Psychology, and Professor of Psychiatry University of Pittsburgh
Jacqueline Sullivan Assistant Professor, Philosophy of Neuroscience, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mind; Member, Rotman Institute of Philosophy Western University, Ontario, Canada Comparing the RDoC and CNTRICS to each other and to other (purportedly) successful initiatives in other areas of science (e.g., bio-ontologies) may yield ingredients for a proper recipe as to how to facilitate successful integrative collaborations for explaining psychiatric illness
Kathryn Tabb Assistant professor of Philosophy Columbia University  Anti-pluralism of the RDoC broader psychiatric research strategies
Eric Turkheimer  Professor, Clinical Psychology University of Virginia
James Woodward Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science University of Pittsburgh
Peter Zachar Professor of Psychology, Department of Philosophy Auburn University at Montgomery 


More information and registration to follow.