Free Will and Mental Disorder: Exploring the Relationship
Theoretical medicine and bioethics 2010 Dec; 31(6): 429-43
A link between mental disorder and freedom is clearly present in the introduction of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). It mentions "an important loss of freedom" as one of the possible defining features of mental disorder. Meanwhile, it remains unclear how "an important loss of freedom" should be understood. In order to get a clearer view on the relationship between mental disorder and (a loss of) freedom, in this article, I will explore the link between mental disorder and free will. I examine two domains in which a connection between mental disorder and free will is present: the philosophy of free will and forensic psychiatry. As it turns out, philosophers of free will frequently refer to mental disorders as conditions that compromise free will and reduce moral responsibility. In addition, in forensic psychiatry, the rationale for the assessment of criminal responsibility is often explained by referring to the fact that mental disorders can compromise free will. Yet, in both domains, it remains unclear in what way free will is compromised by mental disorders. Based on the philosophical debate, I discuss three senses of free will and explore their relevance to mental disorders. I conclude that in order to further clarify the relationship between free will and mental disorder, the accounts of people who have actually experienced the impact of a mental disorder should be included in future research.
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