- Believing in Doxasticism
One of the most critical challenges faced in science is that of categorization. Both at the inception of a new field and recurrently as it matures, its objects of interest must be classified according to their similarities, and the resulting kinds must be conceptualized in a way that mirrors the best of what is known or postulated about them—all in the hope that those kinds are either real or of practical significance (e.g., that they are suitable as avenues for continued scientific progress; Rodrigues & Banzato, 2014). Transformations in the conceptual chart of any scientific discipline are not only usual but a sign of and often a requirement for its development. Curiously enough, the most prominent definition of delusion, which rests upon its doxastic status and other similarly disputable features, has been essentially the same since the beginning of the twentieth century, even in the face of widespread criticism (Rodrigues & Banzato, 2010). In his “Double Bookkeeping and Doxasticism about Delusion,” Porcher responds to that by endorsing the view that, at least to the extent that scientific research is concerned, we should abandon the characterization of delusions as beliefs and embrace the language of cognitive neuroscience. Given the fast pace of advances in the latter field, the massive shift of view contained in his proposal thus has a defensible motivation, also making a timely topic for discussion as RDoC pushes for a wide reframing of psychopathological language (Zorzanelli, Dalgalarrondo, & Banzato, 2014).
Porcher’s recommendation has a twofold basis. In what he calls the “argument from phenomenology,” the ambiguities seen in the behavior and self-reports of a subset of delusional individuals lead him to conclude that belief is not a label that applies evenly to all delusions. In addition, comprising a draft of what we might call an “argument from fitness,” other reasons are briefly mentioned as to why the language of cognitive neuroscience should be preferred over concepts such as belief, which are borrowed from the language of commonsense psychology. According to the author, the paradigm of cognitive neuroscience and its language would be advantageous in numerous ways, including a) providing delusion with a characterization that is really meaningful as opposed to the vacuity of merely stating its belief status; b) making a better bridge between the phenomenology and the neuroscience of delusion; and c) providing an unifying framework for delusion, that is, one that could facilitate overcoming the perceived heterogeneity by means of an account of mechanistic commonalities (Hohwy, 2013).
While agreeing that the definition of delusion is faulty and that cognitive neuroscience has much to offer to psychopathology, herein I, for the sake of the debate, raise some caveats to Porcher’s views. Although a properly developed argument from fitness could stand on its own, perhaps even making trivial the debate on the doxastic status of delusion, the choice made here is to engage with the author on the topic where he seems to place most of his efforts. [End Page 125]
A Caveat to the Argument from Phenomenology
One must concede that Porcher’s argument from phenomenology adds to the burden against the doxastic status of delusion made by the more challenged argument from “action guidance,” but it is not out of the reach of criticism either. Pivotal to the argument is that, if we are to say that delusions are beliefs, there should be, at the very least, something it is like to have a belief. The double bookkeeping type of delusion fails to meet that minimum requirement of similarity, Porcher says. He argues that delusions of that kind are not felt as actual beliefs and that patients who hold them struggle not to have their statements taken straightforwardly—this being inferred from the metaphorical style and profusion of subjunctifiers seen in the language through which these subjects try to communicate their delusions. Porcher’s professed view on the specifics of the double bookkeeping mechanism provides the framework for his argument from phenomenology. Accordingly, delusions like those of Schreber, and which are the focus of the argument from phenomenology, are argued to be kept on the second book in an inherently dreamlike ineffable...