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  • Delusions and the Non-epistemic Foundations of Belief
  • Richard G. T. Gipps (bio) and John Rhodes (bio)

background, bedrock, certainty, sanity

In her paper "Shaking the Bedrock," Bortolotti (2011) acknowledges that our bedrock (or what we prefer to call 'background') theory of delusion contributes to the understanding of what is delusional about some delusions, but questions whether it has the broad scope we intended for it. In this response, we begin by rehearsing our understanding of the non-representational 'bedrock' of our belief as first articulated in Wittgenstein's On Certainty, before elaborating on the bedrock or background theory of delusion and defending it against Bortolotti's objections. Our aim is to show that the radically non-epistemic, non-representational, non-propositional, and particularistic account of the bedrock articulated by Wittgenstein and developed by Searle avoids the objections which Bortolotti offers while also allowing for an account of the delusionality of delusions, which is indeed general in scope.

On the Nature of the Bedrock

In our original paper (Rhodes and Gipps 2008), we proposed that the peculiar incomprehensibility of delusions can be understood as consequent on a deformation or deterioration of the delusional subject's 'bedrock' or 'background.' The notion of the 'bedrock' was taken from Wittgenstein (1979, §498), and refers to what in On Certainty (henceforth 'OC') he regarded as the non-epistemic foundation of our belief (Stroll 1994).

What is the character of this foundation? It may help to start with a sketch of what Wittgenstein did not mean by the bedrock. So, one non-Wittgensteinian picture of our reality contact might invoke the following idea: that the character of our comprehending relationship to reality is aptly depicted as an interlocking system of internal representations, the parts of which can be understood as propositional attitudes that singularly or jointly represent or misrepresent different aspects of an external world. Within this system, some representations will be more fundamental than others, because the latter will typically presuppose the former, but not vice versa. The representations that are most fundamental might be called 'bedrock beliefs.' These bedrock representations are less likely to confront reality directly, because they will typically just be presupposed by rather than tested in most inquiry. Nevertheless, there is nothing stopping us thinking about their adequacy—at least, when we think philosophically about the relation between our system of belief and the external world—and concluding that some of their representations of how things really are may be misguided. Accordingly, there is nothing to prevent us from thinking [End Page 89] that someone may be mistaken in some of their bedrock beliefs. Furthermore someone may be said to be unreasonable or irrational just to the extent that the relations amongst these internal representations respect the laws of logic. Finally, it is this system of representation that guides a person's actions and furnishes actions with their intelligibility, rationality, and intentionality.

The understanding of the bedrock foundational certainty which Wittgenstein, in On Certainty, offers as grounding our diverse empirical beliefs, does at certain points connect with the above post-Quinean picture. For example, Wittgenstein sometimes describes our beliefs as a system in which certain 'framework propositions' are simply put out of the way of empirical disconfirmation by the way in which they form an axis around which other propositions (of an empirical character) turn (cf. OC §141, §142, §152). At other points, however, a more radical conception is offered, in which the bedrock is viewed as non-representational, non-propositional, non-internal, non-epistemic, and non-embedded in further belief; furthermore, bedrock 'beliefs' are considered to possess intrinsic reasonableness rather than a rationality contingent on their logical relations to other beliefs (Moyal-Sharrock 2007).

It is true that at various junctures in On Certainty Wittgenstein talks of certain propositions—the 'hinge propositions'—as lying at the certain foundations of the language game. Nevertheless, these propositions and the beliefs they seem to express have so little in common with what we should everyday call a proposition and a belief—what with their (logically) not being able to be proved, evidenced, described as empirically true or false, justified, and so on—that they barely qualify as such. The following paragraphs...


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