Concept Creep

Filling the pail


I am currently reading The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book based upon their influential Atlantic essay from 2015. It is a fascinating book, but I want to focus in this post on a reference to a 2016 paper by Nick Haslam of Melbourne University. I wish I had read this paper before because it would have informed my forays into discussions about psychological conditions.

Haslam makes that case for ‘concept creep’. He outlines six negative ‘human kinds’ or concepts that may be applied to people: abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction and prejudice. These are necessarily fluid because they are clearly socially constructed (although Haslam does not use this term).

In each case, Haslam demonstrates how the concept has undergone both a ‘vertical’ and a ‘horizontal’ expansion. A horizontal expansion is when the term comes to apply to new, qualitatively different examples and…

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