Show/hide main menu

Level 7

7AAN2003 The Concept of Mental Disorder


Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Professor Alexander Bird


  • Summative assessment: one 4,000-word essay (100%)
  • Formative assessment: one 2,000–3,000-word essay


  • Summative assessment: one 4,000-word essay (100%)
  • Formative assessment: one 2,000–3,000-word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks
Additional information: Team-taught by Derek Bolton (Professor Emeritus KCL), Norman Poole (QMUL), and Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed (UCL). 

Likely to be of special interest to students in the MA Philosophy of Medicine, MA Philosophy of Psychology and MSc Medical Humanities programmes: but all are welcome.

Pre-requisites: none
Syllabus: 7AAN2003 module syllabus 2016-17.

This module in the philosophy of psychiatry will critically appraise several main approaches to the concept of mental disorder. First, the critiques of mainstream psychiatry, beginning in the 1960s and still current, mainly to the effect that normal distress or social deviance is being inappropriately pathologized; second, conceptualisations of mental disorder in the standard psychiatry diagnostic manuals of the World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association; and third, ‘naturalist’ approaches to the definition of mental disorder that invoke population statistical or evolutionary theory based norms. Distinctive features include coverage of various approaches to this multi-faceted problem. Learning objectives include understanding contemporary controversies about the nature and extent of mental disorder, conceptualisations used in mainstream psychiatry, and theoretical definitions in terms of human nature.

Further information

Module aims

Students will be introduced to and receive training in certain key ideas from the interface between philosophy and psychiatry, at a level of sophistication appropriate to a level-7 module. In particular, topics will include:

  • Contemporary controversies about the nature and extent of mental disorder
  • Conceptualizations used in mainstream psychiatry
  • Theoretical definitions in terms of human nature
Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a level-7 module, and in particular will be able to demonstrate:

  • Knowledge of the main positions in the philosophy of psychiatry
  • The ability to assess and develop these positions
  • The ability to exercise their powers of intellectual criticism by critically commenting upon the views discussed
  • The ability to relate material from the philosophy of psychiatry to other branches of philosophy, such as philosophy of psychology or philosophy of medicine
Past syllabi

7AAN2003 module syllabus 2015-16 (pdf)

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

More detailed information on the current year’s module (including the syllabus for that year) can be accessed on KEATS by all students and staff. 

Core reading
  • Bolton, D. (2008). What is mental disorder? An essay in philosophy, science and values. Oxford University Press
  • (2013) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. Edited by W. K. M. Fulford, M Davies, R Gipps, G Graham, J Sadler, G Stanghellini, & T Thorton. Oxford University Press. (In particular Section IV)
  • Sedgewick, P. (1982). Psycho Politics: Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz, and the future of mass psychiatry. Harper and Row: New York

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2019 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454