Call for Abstracts – Templeton-Sowerby Joint Workshop: Function and Dysfunction in Medicine and Psychiatry

20th – 21st of February 2024

The John Templeton Foundation-funded project ‘Agency, Directionality and Function’ at the City University of New York, and the Sowerby Philosophy and Medicine Project at King’s College London jointly invite submissions for an interdisciplinary workshop on ‘Function and Dysfunction in Medicine and Psychiatry’.

For nearly 50 years, philosophers have debated whether we should understand disease and disorder in terms of biological function and dysfunction. One prominent view holds that in order for something to qualify as a disease or disorder, it must involve the failure of some part or process to perform its natural function. Such debates often take on a special urgency in psychiatry, where theorists often debate whether a specific condition, like ADHD, depression, or even delusions, represents a ‘dysfunction,’ ‘normal cognitive variation,’ or a ‘functional’ response to a life circumstance. Some argue that many putative dysfunctions featuring in medicine are instead cases of ‘evolutionary mismatch’ relative to our post-Pleistocene world. In turn, differing conceptual frameworks for making sense of pathology may impact upon stigma and treatment.

The purpose of this workshop is to promote novel philosophical and conceptual work on the relationships between function and dysfunction, and the notions of disease, disorder, and pathology. In exploring this topic, we hope to move beyond the naturalism/normativism debate in philosophy of medicine and consider issues of function and dysfunction in greater depth. We encourage submissions which engage with parallel literature in the philosophy of biology and science, interdisciplinary and empirically informed submissions, as well as contributions from scientists and clinicians. We also welcome submissions from postgraduate and early-career researchers, and from women and other groups underrepresented in philosophy.

What follows is a suggestive, non-exhaustive list of questions we are interested in discussing as part of the workshop:

• How should we deploy the notions of function and dysfunction to thinking about the nature of disorders, whether psychiatric or somatic?

• Which theory or theories of function are the right ones for biomedicine and psychiatry?

• Are there different types of dysfunction and, therefore, different types of pathology?

• Do disorders always involve a failure of a part of the body to perform its function, or can there be disorders without dysfunctions?

• Do some mental disorders, like depression or delusions, actually involve the ‘correct functioning’ of our minds and brains? If so, how do we assess ‘correct functioning?’

• Is there a difference between a trait that is unable to perform its function and one that is simply ‘mismatched’ to its present environment? What might that mean for intervention?

• How do functional and dysfunctional biological processes interact in producing pathological outcomes?

• What does work on function and dysfunction imply for the relationship between psychiatric and neurological conditions?

• What are the practical implications of differing judgments about function for research, treatment, and stigma?

Confirmed Speakers:

David Papineau (KCL), John Matthewson (Massey), Ema Sullivan-Bissett (Birmingham), Justin Garson (CUNY), Fabian Hundertmark (Bielefeld), Harriet Fagerberg (CUNY)

Deadline: 1st of July 2023

Submission Guidelines:

Please send abstracts suitable for anonymous review to Abstract submissions should not exceed 500 words, excluding references. Please use the subject line ‘Function Workshop 2024’, and include your name, position and current affiliations in the message body.

General inquires can be directed to Justin Garson at For more information and recent updates, see


David Papineau, Nick Makins, Rivkah Hatchwell, Harriet Fagerberg, and Justin Garson