“It has in recent years become fashionable to conceive of ourselves as the helpless products of our genes; free will and responsibility are commonly thought an illusion, to be displaced by genetic and neural determinism; and the theory of evolution in invoked to explain morality and altruism in terms of natural selection. Our affinity with other hominidae has become a subject of extensive research, often aimed at cutting us down to size. The prowess of the great apes is exaggerated, often in order to narrow the perceived gap between animals and us. This development in the Zeitgeist is sadly understandable, but unwarranted [Lest somebody is tempted to draw the wrong inference: this is not, however, the principal motivation of animal ethicists or those hoping to widen and extend our sense of care and concern for our animal brothers and sisters … or cousins. There need be no necessary connection between the extension of our moral compass to embrace nonhuman animals (which may include highlighting aspects of our animal nature we hold in common: like consciousness, the capacity for suffering, proto- and basic emotions, etc.) and the project of diminishing or failing to distinguish the distinctive features, attributes, and powers of human beings or persons.]. We are, to be sure, hominidae—but the only language using ones. No other creature has eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We are animals, but the only animals who can aspire to live under the rule of law [or simply, and especially, moral norms], and who can achieve happiness [or eudaimonia, flourishing, or self-fulfillment as defined by philosophers and sages] (as opposed to mere contentment). It is well that we should bear in mind our rational nature and what is distinctive about us—what makes us ‘darkly wise and rudely great,’ ‘a pendulum between smile and tear,’ ‘the glory and the shame of the universe.’ … [In distinguishing and comparing man and beast we must bring to the fore] the applicability and reasons for the applicability of many cognitive and cogitative concepts to human beings, and to all other animals that are neither blessed with, nor cursed by possession of, the powers of reason, thought and understanding.”—P.M.S. Hacker, from the Introduction to The Intellectual Powers: A Study of Human Nature (Wiley Blackwell, 2013)
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And now a snippet from Olivia Goldhill’s brilliant essay, “In the Dark: 30 years after Prozac arrived, we still buy the lie that chemical imbalances cause depression,” Quartz, December 29, 2017
“ … [T]he idea of chemical imbalances has remained stubbornly embedded in the public understanding of depression.
Prozac, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration 30 years ago today, on Dec. 29, 1987, marked the first in a wave of widely prescribed antidepressants that built on and capitalized off this theory. No wonder: Taking a drug to tweak the biological chemical imbalances in the brain makes intuitive sense. But depression isn’t caused by a chemical imbalance, we don’t know how Prozac works, and we don’t even know for sure if it’s an effective treatment for the majority of people with depression.
One reason the theory of chemical imbalances won’t die is that it fits in with psychiatry’s attempt, over the past half century, to portray depression as a disease of the brain, instead of an illness of the mind. This narrative, which depicts depression as a biological condition that afflicts the material substance of the body, much like cancer, divorces depression from the self. It also casts aside the social factors that contribute to depression, such as isolation, poverty, or tragic events, as secondary concerns. Non-pharmaceutical treatments, such as therapy and exercise, often play second fiddle to drugs.
In the three decades since Prozac went on the market, antidepressants have propagated, which has further fed into the myths and false narratives we tell about mental illnesses. In that time, these trends have shifted not just our understanding, but our actual experiences of depression.”
The complete essay which is, as we say, spot-on, is here.
Update: I’ve just learned of a recent piece in the Guardian that provides us with a similar, albeit more personal argument that nicely complements Goldhill’s article: “Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?”
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One of the underlying problems (or presuppositions, essential assumptions, animating premises) here is the failure to conceptually—and properly—distinguish the mind from the brain and, correlatively, to understand what it means to be a human animal and/or person (the latter in a metaphysical sense; thus one might advocate for a conception of legal personhood by way of granting a small cluster of legal and thus proper moral recognition to—some class of—nonhuman animals, while denying that these animals are persons in a metaphysical sense, or in the terms of a philosophical anthropology, which is based on a concept of a distinctively human nature). Furthermore, what Raymond Tallis describes as “Neuromania” (an uncritical and philosophically indefensible understanding of the various neurosciences) and “Darwinitis” (e.g., in the form of evolutionary psychology) has contributed to and exacerbated this failure. What follows are titles that help us understand why we should adamantly refuse to conflate the mind with, or reduce it to, the brain, or to believe that the mind simply arises or emerges from the brain (it might rather be understood as a necessary yet not sufficient condition of mind).
- Bennett, M.R. and P.M.S. Hacker. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.
- Bennett, Maxwell, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, John Searle, and Daniel Robinson. Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. (I prefer the arguments of Bennett, Hacker, and Robinson over Dennett and Searle.)
- Bilgrami, Akeel. Self-Knowledge and Resentment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
- Descombes, Vincent (Stephen Adam Schwartz, tr.). The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Finkelstein, David H. Expression and the Inner. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
- Gillett, Grant. Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2008.
- Gillett, Grant. The Mind and Its Discontents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2009.
- Hacker, P.M.S. Human Nature: The Categorial Framework. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
- Hacker, P.M.S. The Intellectual Powers: A Study of Human Nature. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
- Hodgson, David. The Mind Matters: Consciousness and Choice in a Quantum World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991
- Horst, Steven. Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Hutto, Daniel D. The Presence of Mind. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1999.
- Hutto, Daniel D. Beyond Physicalism. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2000.
- Hutto, Daniel D. Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.
- Pardo, Michael S. and Dennis Patterson. Minds, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Patterson, Dennis and Michael S. Pardo, eds. Philosophical Foundations of Law and Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
- Smith, Christian. What Is a Person? Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
- Tallis, Raymond. The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999 ed.
- Tallis, Raymond. I Am: An Inquiry into First-Person Being. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
- Tallis, Raymond. The Knowing Animal: A Philosophical Inquiry into Knowledge and Truth. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
- Tallis, Raymond. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Durham, England: Acumen, 2011.
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Finally, I happen to have three bibliographies that are directly relevant to the topics broached in Goldhill’s piece:
- Biological Psychiatry, Sullied Psychology and Pharmaceutical Reason
- Freudian & Post-Freudian Psychology
- Health: Law, Ethics & Social Justice
(i) Ella Bergmann-Michel (20 October 1896 – 8 August 1971) I don’t know the title or date of this painting (ii) Elizabeth Catlett, “Pensive” (1963)