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The Ethics of Mental Health & Illness


Zsuzsanna Chappell;

Mental health disorders occupy an important position in social discourse (especially in the wake of the pandemic), are given a high research priority and are identified as one of the leading causes of disability world-wide by the WHO. Mirroring this trend, there has been increased interest in the philosophy of psychiatry (e.g. Ratcliffe 2014, Zachar 2014, Bortolotti 2020). There has, so far, not been an equivalent revival in the interest in this topic in social and political philosophy outside of clinical ethics and bioethics.

Notable exceptions are question around competence, forcible treatment and sectioning in psychiatric hospitals. Furthermore, many papers on agency and responsibility use psychiatric disorders as test cases (e.g. Shoemaker 2015). Yet issues related to the lived experience of most of those living with mental illness are still largely neglected by social and political philosophers and theorists.

This workshop aims to contribute to promoting work in this area. Mental illness, whether transitory or chronic, mild or severe, affects many of us at some point in our lives. It is not enough to consider mental illness as a problem of clinical ethics. Many people with mental illness do not seek treatment and while people’s interaction with mental health services (provided or regulated by the state) can have an enormous impact on their lives, most of those lives are still lived outside the clinic.

In addition, those living with neurodivergence (autism, ADHD, etc.) are also diagnosed by psychologists and psychiatrists, using the same diagnostic manuals (the DSM-5 and the ICD-10) as are used for mental health disorders. Thus another question is whether these two very different issues should be considered together and what problems this raises.

Further possible topics include:

  • The state and mental health: How can we balance paternalism and neutrality in interactions between the state and neurodivergent citizens / citizens with mental illness? To what extent is mental illness a response to problems of living and injustice and what can the state do to rectify such situations? Are policies for the prevention of mental illness necessarily paternalistic?
  • Social epistemology: How do problems of social epistemology affect policies, treatment, research? What problems of testimony do mental health disorders raise?
  • Identity: What can we learn from Mad activism / studies (e.g. Rashed 2019)? How do mental illness / neurodiversity fit in with the philosophy of disability? How do mental illness / neurodiversity affect intersectional identities? What are problems of discrimination specific to those who experience mental illness? Is it fair to consider mental illness and neurodivergence together?
  • Mental health treatment: How do we ensure that treatment for mental health problems is neutral towards conceptions of the good life? How should we conceptualise recovery / living a full life in the context of mental illness / neurodivergence? What ethical problems are raised by specific mental health disorders e.g. eating disorders?

Submitting abstracts: please email an anonymised 500 word abstract and title to by 15th of May 2021 with “MANCEPT CFA” in the subject line. Please include a separate cover sheet with your proposed paper title and contact details (name, email, institutional affiliation). Presenters will have 55 minutes each, with 30 minutes to present and 25 minutes for discussion.

Registration for the conference opens in May. All participants must register to attend.

This year’s fees are:

Academics: £45

Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20

Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

MANCEPT offers fee-waiver bursaries to attend the conference (available for current graduate students only), and the application deadline for a bursary is 15th of June 2021. To give presenters time to apply for a bursary, authors will receive decisions by 8th of June 2021.