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  • What Is the Subject in Question?
  • João José R. L. de Almeida (bio)

Arguing for the theoretical importance of the concept of “subject” or “self” on behalf of the “psychiatric/psycho-pathological thinking” is justified in so far as, as Costa, Bezerra Jr., and Gama say, “this is still an indispensable concept for understanding the conditions for the gestation and functioning of psychological life.” In what sense are these concepts “indispensable?”All the hints suggest them as necessary complements for neurobiological investigations to become useful for clinical employment. So, if we consider that it is possible to approach mental phenomena connecting in some way their two sides to favor clinical use, the neurobiological and the psychological, we might as well suppose that any epistemic exclusivity, as well as any refusal to deal with a theoretical bridge that allows some beneficial crossing between them, will appear for any supporter of theoretical interrelationships as a partial perspective, precisely because that position denies the very indispensability of certain concepts. Explanatory relationships are mandatory, therefore, unless one wished to establish some sort of autonomous theoretical realm to account for the mental life. Neither personal-level psychology nor neurobiological mechanisms and their relationships should be disregarded in psychiatric and psychopathological theories. So, from the point of view of an article whose perspective is exactly dealing with that bridge, the thrust of the argument seems fair, for it is a resolute defense of the phenomenological and sociological roles in the conceptualization of psychopathological facts, without neglecting neuroscience. Actually, by simply proposing that matter for consideration, the article tries to fill in some way the explanatory gap.

However, leaving aside logical necessities, there are some points of contention that I would like to comment on if I may. First of all, we do not know exactly what they mean by “subject” throughout its forty-eight uses in the article. More than that, the authors seem to use “subject,” “self,” and “consciousness” interchangeably, even though each term contains important theoretical particularities and even though they are, after all, just umbrella concepts that cover a wide variety of mental phenomena. In fact, it is true that this problem is recognized in a quotation from Zahavi (2005, p. 8), who mentions no less than twenty-one distinct concepts of self as enumerated by Strawson (1999, p. 484). But their own definition of subject as “ways of existing,” as it is stated in the final part of the article, does not make things clearer. Maybe we could also find no fewer than twenty-one distinct definitions of “ways of existing,” and for not knowing more clearly what does it mean, explanandum fares no better than explains. We are also left in the same obscurity as we were in the beginning.

My second point is about argumentative strategy. There are many ways of deploying reasons to maintain that the self or subject is an indispensable concept for psychiatric/psychopathological thinking, as can be examined in the specialized [End Page 99] literature (cf., for example, Gerrans, 2014; Sass, 1994; Smith, 2017). But in the case under scrutiny, this was done through criticisms of three naturalistic leanings works on such accounts (by Taylor [1999], Hofstadter [2007], and Metzinger [2003]), and by subsequent indication of also three features that make indispensable an advantageous notion of the subject. In fact, Taylor, Hofstadter, and Metzinger take the role of counterpoints in the argument to emphasize such conceptual necessity and the reasons why that notion should not be disregarded. Although the authors in general agree with the fictional character of the self, they contend that phenomenological descriptions are, on the other hand, the best candidate to complement and integrate naturalistic methods into a theoretical and clinical explanatory whole in the psychiatric field.

That being said, I am not precisely asking in this second point about diversities and complementations in descriptions or explanations of the self or subject, nor even about of what plural does the subject is made, but rather about attitudes when questioning things. This is because I am suspicious about their choice of works to fight for the personal level, as well as about the necessity of counterpoint argumentation to give prominence to their...


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pp. 99-101
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