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Study information

Philosophy of Psychiatry

Module titlePhilosophy of Psychiatry
Module codePHL3054
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Sam Wilkinson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module you will examine the ways in which philosophy and psychiatry can inform each other. You will consider the relationship between healthy and pathological forms of human experience, while applying philosophical argument and analysis so as to improve your conceptual thinking regarding issues such as the nature of mental illness, psychiatric diagnosis and scientific explanation in psychiatry. You will also explore the possible role of psychiatric conditions as a way of informing philosophical theorizing. For example, do delusions tell us something about the nature of belief (a central concept in philosophy of mind and epistemology)? Along the way, you will examine the application of emerging models in the sciences of the mind to specific psychiatric conditions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to introduce you to core debates within the exciting and burgeoning field of philosophy of psychiatry. It will present, explore and critically evaluate different approaches, positions and theories within philosophy of psychiatry, and will elucidate connections between these and theoretical commitments in other areas of philosophy (e.g. philosophy of mind or ethics). You will therefore enrich your thinking not only about mental disorder, but also about other areas in philosophy. I will also encourage you to think critically and constructively about current mental health policies.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. identify and cogently discuss the key methods, questions, themes and topics in philosophy of psychiatry and draw connections with those in other areas of philosophy;
  • 2. critically distinguish and evaluate different approaches and arguments within core areas of philosophy of psychiatry, and appreciate the consequences that these have for positions in other areas of philosophy.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. demonstrate a high level of understanding of the interrelation between theories, values and lived experience, with particular focus on psychiatry and psychiatric conditions;
  • 4. demonstrate sound knowledge of different types of philosophical analysis.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. demonstrate a significantly expanded philosophical vocabulary and understanding with respect to key ideas in philosophy of psychiatry and how this relates to philosophical approaches in other areas of philosophy;
  • 6. conduct research independently, engaging with complex ideas and problems while developing original research insights;
  • 7. engage in complex and high level argumentation both orally and through writing.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:
1. What is psychiatry?
2. What is mental illness?
3. Issues in psychiatric diagnosis
4. Mental illness, moral responsibility and the boundaries of the person
5. Religion, society and pathology
6. Schizophrenia and psychosis
7. Hearing voices
8. Delusions and the nature of belief
9. Depression: philosophical issues
10. Addiction and the will

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2211 x weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study44Preparation for lectures and seminars
Guided Independent Study84Independent research for presentation and coursework essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan 500 words1-7Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1501,800 words1-7Written
Essay 2501,800 words1-7Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 11,800 words1-7August/September reassessment period
Essay 21,800 words1-7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Broome, M. & Bortolotti, L. (eds.), 2009. Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, R. 2007. Psychiatry and Philosophy of Science, Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing.

Gold, J. & Gold, I., 2014. Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness, New York: Free Press.

Graham, G., 2010. The Disordered Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Mental Illness, London: Routledge.

Guze, S. B., 1992. Why Psychiatry Is a Branch of Medicine, New York: Oxford University Press.

McNally, R. J. 2011. What is Mental Illness? Harvard University Press.

Sadler, J.Z., 2004. Values in Psychiatric Diagnosis, New York: Oxford University Press.

Key words search

Philosophy of Psychiatry; Psychiatry; Mental Disorder; Psychosis; Delusion

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date