Somogy Varga, Naturalism, Interpretation and Mental Disorder

Somogy Varga, Naturalism, Interpretation and Mental Disorder (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2015) 272pp. £39.99 Pb. ISBN: 9780198747253

Naturalism, Interpretation and Mental Disorder is a unique book not only with regard to its title but also to the subject matter within the book. It is one of the first works written on the subject that permits the reader to question his own views, values and thoughts on the matter. The book’s uniqueness comes from the fact that there is a paucity of written material on the subject and this is the first in-depth work on it.  The hermeneutics which flow throughout the book challenge the reader’s views, opinions and ideas on naturalism, interpretation and mental disorder as three distinct areas traversing each other’s paths when being interpreted, as in the model put forward by Shapiro (1983).

Hempel (1966, 2) rightly points out that the enormous prestige that empirical science enjoys in contemporary Western societies can be largely attributed to its remarkable successes and wide range of applications. This characteristic applies to somatic situations but psychiatry itself is regarded as being a unique branch of medicine in that there are no ‘gold standard’ tests or bench marks on which to base psychiatric philosophies, so that psychiatry thus holds a special position amongst the ‘philosophies of’ (45). In this book the focus is on those questions that concern interpretation and understanding.

Most medical information is gathered from a patient by analysing specific dialogue, observation, thoughts, emotions, and behavior to assess reaction to psycho-active drugs, but the interpretation of this information varies from health professional to health professional. In some cases it is possible for a health professional to interpret the information obtained using a personal approach, with the reverse occuring whenever a patient gives information, in other words giving the answers that the health professionals wish to hear, in that they fall in with the current mode of thinking in psychiatric disorders. Varga suggests how a hermeneutically informed perspective might be fruitful for a more adequate understanding of certain subjects (102).  The dialogue in a therapeutic encounter between client and therapist can now begin to include overlooked expressions. Chapter Three of the book looks at this problem in a therapeutic setting, using cognitive therapy as the avenue towards achieving this goal whilst bringing to bear a hermeneutical perspective in the comprehension of mental disorders, by emphasizing the need to evaluate and interpret the utilization of the discourse within the clinical or therapeutic setting.

Varga in this book demonstrates that that this approach can reveal more understanding and information about mental illness than conventional present day techniques.  The dynamic nature of the concept of mental disorder is highlighted and seems to resist any strict naturalistic attempt at definition particularly in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions  (183). This philosophy is supported by present day practice and in this instance Varga demonstrates the various theories behind this approach in psychiatric and therapeutic settings between health professional and patient or client.

When the sciences of philosophy and psychiatry meet the inevitable point arises that psychiatry is not a medical science in the sense assumed by the medical model which is the foundation for research on medical matters. Psychiatry lacks this foundation because of the uniqueness of mental disorders and Varga attempts to close this gap by drawing on various theories in philosophy and science from a different perspective than that represented by the medical model alone. This approach corresponds to the one advocated by Gadamer (2006).  The ever changing field of psychiatry often challenges various viewpoints and opinions with regard to mental illness and thus psychiatry can claim to be a unique field for research purposes as psychiatry itself possesses many dynamic aspects which are unusual in terms of the methodological challenges they pose.

Naturalism, Interpretation, and Mental Disorder brings fresh thinking to the field of philosophy and psychiatry, and will be of interest to students and scholars in the fields of mental health and philosophy of mind.

Catherine Bryce BSc, Retired Mental Health Nurse

Works Cited

H-G Gadamer, 'The Incapacity of Conversation', Continental Philosophy Review 39:4 (2006) 351-359 (orig pub 1972)

C G Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1966)

S Shapiro, 'Mathematics and Reality', Philosophy of Science, 50:4 (1983) 523-548 e

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