The Missing Self in Scientific Psychiatry


Philosophy & Religious Studies

Document Type


Publication Source

Synthese. Pages 1-19.

Publication Date



Various traditions in mental health care, such as phenomenological, and existential and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, implicitly or explicitly acknowledge that a disruption of the self, or the person, or the agent (often using these three concepts synonymously) is among the common denominators of different mental disorders. They often emphasize the importance of understanding patients as reasonsresponsive, in their full mental health relevant complexity, if their mental disorder is to be treated successfully. The centrality of the concept of the self is not mirrored in the mainstream scientific approaches in psychiatry however; the self has rarely been considered as the object of scientific research, the empirical investigation of which might yield successful explanations of and interventions in mental disorders. Thus, even though self-related phenomena are clinically relevant in so far as they give important information about a mental disorder to the clinician and help the development of effective interventions, they are not considered among the scientifically relevant properties of mental disorders. Leaving the self-related phenomena out of the scientific research on mental disorders can be attributed to the presupposition that the self is not empirically tractable and its use will hinder psychiatry’s goal to be scientific. In this paper, taking issue with this, I argue the self is empirically tractable, and its use as a target of research will not hinder psychiatry’s scientific commitments.


self, person, mental disorder, psychiatry