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date: 18 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines Karl Jaspers’s influential distinction between understanding and explaining, and its significance in psychiatry. It first outlines one way of interpreting the distinction, on which it is connected to the distinction between singular and general causal claims. It then discusses one reason for thinking that understanding has an essential role to play in psychiatry: Not achieving at least some level of understanding in the context of dealing with psychiatric patients would constitute a particular kind of epistemic failure—a failure to recognize their illness for the particular type of illness it is. Drawing on some ideas recently put forward by Kenneth Kendler and John Campbell, it also illustrates the particular kind of understanding that is crucial in this context.

Keywords: understanding, explaining, Karl Jaspers, psychiatry, psychopathology, singular causation

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