A family of recent externalist approaches in philosophy of mind and cognitive science argues that our psychological capacities cannot be understood by looking at the brain alone. We must also attend to features of our embodiment, as well as the complex ways we interact with our social and material environments. This is because our psychological capacities are synchronically and diachronically “scaffolded” by environmental resources — objects, artifacts, tools, practices, institutions, and other people — that grant access to otherwise-inaccessible forms of thought and experience. In this talk, I apply an externalist framework to psychiatric disorder. I argue that this approach is explanatorily useful in two ways. First, it illuminates how we can be said to empathize with others suffering from psychiatric disorders in that we can directly perceive aspects or features of their disorder partially “externalized” via the character of their embodiment, as well as their concrete engagements with the people, things, and institutions around them. Second, using autism as a case study, I argue that an externalist perspective indicates how we may at times play a regulatory role in shaping the character and development of their disorder — a recognition that engenders certain moral responsibilities and also indicates possibilities for novel treatment and intervention strategies.
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