My PhD argues, through history and philosophy, that autism merits belief. New projects like RDoC hope to eventually replace existing psychiatric classifications with new classifications intended to be superior to existing ones. I accept that most classifications probably should be replaced but I argue autism already merits belief and so does not require replacing.
Philosophically, I argued against a natural kind approach, providing an alternative notion based upon autism as a high level idealised model. I also explored how classifications can be used to model symptoms, rejecting typical images of classifications passively grouping symptoms. I argued autism merits belief, though only a moderate neo-Kantian notion of belief, showing autism exhibits many theoretical virtues worthy of belief and that autism (symptoms, classification, but not causes) generally involve good epistemic conditions.
I employed history to counter to negative arguments against belief. Historical evidence show that autism has substantial historical continuity, thus escaping the pessimistic meta induction. Historical evidence shows most symptoms were described under both psychoanalysts and cognitive psychologists, thus the symptoms (though not causal claims) escape theory laden nature of evidence.
I am primarily interested in the philosophy of psychiatric classifications. I believe many philosophers of psychiatry have conceptualised classifications in a very specific way, one with many problematic philosophical connotations. I believe philosophy of science provides a rich diversity of approaches that provide alternative accounts of what psychiatric classifications are, including how psychiatric classifications relate to causes, how they function as explanations and how they work inductively. I am especially interested in recent work on neo-Kantian philosophy of science. Reformulating psychiatric classifications using various notions found in the philosophy of science typically leaves psychiatry classifications looking much more credible than most people typically consider them. Additionally, philosophy of science provides many different approaches for what belief in scientific concepts entails and under what situations we should believe in scientific concepts. Employing these can go far to reduce much pessimism over psychiatric classifications and provide guidance over how we should go about modifying classifications to improve them.
I am interested in the classificatory history of autism, analysing how the symptomatology changed over time, especially in 1950s America and 1970s Britain. I believe current focus on Kanner’s 1943 autism, without placing 1943 autism into a wider context of how notions of autism underwent rapid development and how autism related to other classifications, creates a distorted image of the role autism played in a wider classificatory schema. This distorted image is then sometimes inappropriately used in comparison with modern autism. I hope to redress this distortion by exploring how and why the symptomatology of autism changed over time, also, by exploring how autism related to other classifications, primarily childhood schizophrenia.