The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium III

Conceptions of Mental Disorder

Rachel Cooper | 2020 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Kent

The Concept of Disorder Revisited:
Robustly value-laden despite change

Rachel Cooper (Lancaster)


Our concept of disorder is changing. This causes problems for projects of descriptive conceptual analysis. Conceptual change means that a criterion that was necessary for a condition to be a disorder at one time may cease to be necessary a relatively short time later.  Nevertheless, some conceptually-based claims will be fairly robust. In particular, the claim that no adequate account of disorder can appeal only to biological facts can be maintained for the foreseeable future. This is because our current concept of disorder continues to be laden with ethical and political values in multiple different ways.


Rachel Cooper is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Lancaster University. Her research mainly concerns issues in the philosophy of medicine, especially psychiatry. Her publications include  Diagnosing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Karnac, 2014), Psychiatry and the Philosophy of Science (2007, Routledge), and Classifying Madness (Springer, 2005).

Lisa Bortolotti | 2020 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Kent

Doctors without 'Disorders'

Lisa Bortolotti (Birmingham)


On one influential view, the problems that should attract medical attention involve a disorder, because the goals of medical practice are to prevent and treat disorders. Based on this view, if there are no mental disorders then the status of psychiatry as a medical field is challenged. In this paper I observe that it is often difficult to establish whether the problems that attract medical attention are caused by a disorder and argue that none of the notions of disorder proposed so far offers a successful demarcation criterion between medical and non-medical problems. As an illustration, I consider why delusions are considered pathological and whether they attract medical attention in virtue of being pathological, where ‘pathological’ stands for ‘being caused by a disorder’. Although there are several promising answers to what makes delusions pathological, available accounts of the pathological nature of delusions fail to distinguish delusions from other irrational beliefs that are not typically thought of as pathological; and cannot explain why delusions typically attract medical attention whereas other irrational beliefs do not.


Lisa Bortolotti is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Her research interests are in the philosophy of psychology and psychiatry with a focus on belief, rationality, and mental health. For five years (2014-2019), she led an ERC-funded project on the potential benefits of irrational beliefs, called PERFECT. She is the author of “Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs” (OUP 2009), “Irrationality” (Polity 2014), and “The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs” (OUP 2020).

further info

future joint sessions

2021 joint session:

july 2021

2022 joint session:
St Andrews

july 2022

2023 joint session:

july 2023

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The inaugural address and symposia for the Joint Session are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, which is published digitally and in hardcover every June. The Supplementary Volume is sent to subscribing members of the Society in categories 4 and 5.

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The 2018 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Cardiff University

past conferences

2019 joint session:

19 - 21 july 2019

2018 joint session:

6 - 8 july 2018

2017 joint session:

14 - 16 july 2017

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