What is it to have a mental disorder? The paper proposes an ability-based view of mental disorder. It argues that such a view is preferable to biological dysfunction views such as Wakefield’s Harmful Dysfunction Analysis and Boorse’s Biostatistical Theory. According to the proposed view, having a mental disorder is basically a matter of having a certain type of inability (or: an ability that is not sufficiently high): the inability to respond adequately to some of one’s available reasons in some of one’s reasons-sensitive attitudes or actions, where the threshold of inability is determined by one’s being harmed. The relevant concepts of inability, reasons, and harm are sketched. The paper argues that the proposed view evades some problems of biological dysfunction views by remaining neutral on questions of causation and the evolution of the mind. Furthermore, it can capture better what is distinctively “mental” about mental disorder. On the proposed view, it is the rational relations among an individual’s attitudes and actions that are “disordered” and the relevant norms in mental disorder are the norms of reasons. As further merits, the view can account for degrees of disorder, incorporate biological as well as social aspects, and elucidate the relations among disorders, symptoms, and their causes.
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