Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 September 2014
‘Neuroreductionism’ is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brain states, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate the dangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: a story about ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ in women. We discuss the role of folk dualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of ‘brain scans’ in our understanding of romantic love.
1 It's also worth noting, as Neil Levy pointed out to us (personal correspondence) that ‘many non-reductive physicalists, while certainly agreeing with this claim, also assert a stronger claim: something like “though mental states are completely caused by physical states they are not identical to physical states.” So it's not just pragmatics – what kind of explanation allows for better understanding of what matters to us – but metaphysics that is at issue’ for these kinds of physicalist thinkers.
3 Now, Dr. Diamond's evidence might show that the women are not ‘faking’ their low libido, which could be one sense in which you could argue that they had a ‘real disorder’. But it is silent on etiology – the question of cause – and it depends very much on one's definition of ‘disorder’. For example, it might be a real disorder that is also a ‘societal construct’. That is, some self-conceptions are shaped by notions that are available in a given culture (but not others), and these conceptions can influence one's functioning in ways that are detrimental to their well-being in that context. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association, for example, recognizes a number of ‘culture-bound’ disorders.
8 Some of the material in this paper has been adapted from a blog post by the first author for the Practical Ethics blog at the University of Oxford. See http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2010/10/is-low-libido-a-brain-disorder/. We thank Neil Levy for providing feedback during revisions.