Chemical Imbalances and Imbalanced Knowledges: The Rise and Appeal of Biological Psychiatry Open Access

Jiang, Jennie (Spring 2019)

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At present, we find ourselves living with the biological paradigm of mental illness. In this honors thesis, I attempt to contextualize this paradigm within a variety of frameworks. First, I argue that biological explanations of mental illness are a historically specific phenomenon, and I identify the technological, economic, and political developments which made them possible. In addition, I identify the normative assumptions within biological psychiatry which aligned it with values, goals, and assumptions of modern science and medicine, which are themselves historically specific enterprises. Finally, I explore how the biomedical model of mental illness shapes conceptions selfhood and its relation to the brain and mental illness. In short, I argue that while many technological, political, cultural, and economic factors enabled the biomedical model of mental illness to gain influence during the second half the twentieth century, biological psychiatry’s alliance with the normative dimensions of modern science and medicine armed it with an enduring epistemological appeal that continues to capture scientific and popular imagination today.

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                                                           1

I. The Births of Modern Science and Medicine                                                                   4

II. From Talking It Away to Swallowing It Away                                                               17

The Rise of Biological Psychiatry     

III. This is Your Brain on Depression                                                                                  29

The Philosophical Appeal of Biological Psychiatry

IV. It’s not Me, It’s my Brain:                                                                                              41

Conceptions of Selfhood in the Age of Biological Psychiatry

Conclusion                                                                                                                             50

References                                                                                                                            53

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