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This essay analyzes different contemporary models for defining mental illness and offers a new framework that promotes the use of normative values during the clinical diagnostic process. Although ethic centric models for identifying mental illness do currently exist, these accounts are limited. Specifically, these accounts acknowledge the relationship between mental illness labels and implied responsibility in making their argument to support a normative framework, yet do not explain what capacities are necessary for an agent to have full responsibility. Recognizing this shortcoming, this paper provides an enriched model for identifying mental illness by marrying a normative conception of psychiatric dysfunction to a differential model for assigning moral responsibility. To end this paper looks at how this model may be applied in clinical practice by working through a specific case study of Alcohol Dependence Disorder. Ultimately, I conclude that a normative conception of mental illness married to an account of responsibility is a more appropriate and comprehensive model for recognizing and treating psychiatric dysfunction in clinical practice. By carefully balancing normative and pragmatic considerations, physicians can create more effective and just therapeutic regimens that are tailored to individual patients’ circumstances and needs.


2019 Finalist