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  • Delusion, Folk Psychology, and the Scientific Image
  • José Eduardo Porcher (bio)

The doxastic status of delusion is inconclusive. The arguments presented for and against it are not strong enough to clinch the issue and convince everyone of a single, general characterization. But that does not mean that we have not gained any clarity from discussing it. In the few decades since the issue became contentious, philosophers have made great strides, not only in accounting for the nature of delusion as a cognitive attitude, but also in developing theories of what kind of cognitive attitude best exemplifies the functional role delusions play in one’s cognitive economy.

As is often the case within philosophical debates, it takes a long time and a major collective effort for us to start to get clear on the problems we are raising. I will be more than satisfied if the preceding and following discussions make any progress toward better understanding the question with which we are grappling, namely, “Are delusions beliefs?” I am grateful to Clarissa Dantas and Adriano Rodrigues for their thoughtful and instigating commentaries on my paper and respond to some of the points they bring up by further unpacking my view and offering a reflection on the debate itself.

In her commentary, Dantas raises the distinction between folk and philosophical epistemology and suggests that we should pay heed to the insights we can derive from the former in conceptualizing delusion. Folk epistemology, Dominic Murphy (2012) conjectures, belongs within the broad purview of our folk psychology as the set of intuitions we have about the ways in which people form beliefs and in which they meet justification. If our intuitive detection of mental disorder involves judging that some behavior is so different from what the culture expects that it is evidence that some mental systems are dysfunctional, then the attribution of delusion emerges in situations in which we are unable to account for someone’s acquisition and maintenance of a belief within the normative framework of folk epistemology. I would like to take a moment to entertain the possibility that paying attention to folk psychology tells us something that the doxasticism dispute may have been missing.

We can begin by discerning two different projects underlying two ways of unpacking the question, “Are delusions beliefs?” One way of interpreting it is as asking, “are delusions recognized as beliefs within folk psychology?” This is one of the questions that interest David Rose, Wesley Buckwalter, and John Turri (2014)—philosophers who have conducted studies to probe the folk to try to answer it. The results of their experiments may surprise even staunch doxasticists. They presented participants with two versions of a vignette about a Capgras patient who asserted that his wife had been replaced by an impostor. In the [End Page 129] first (typical) version, the patient continued to eat meals with her, go to the movies with her, live in the same house as her, and sleep in the same bed as her. In the second (atypical) version, the patient refused to eat meals with her, go to the movies with her, and so on. They found that laypeople ascribe to the patient the belief that his wife is an impostor in both cases and at rates far exceeding chance (90% to 100%). Thus, not only does the folk view delusions as beliefs, it views them as stereotypical beliefs. The frequency of assertions affects belief ascription to a greater degree than nonverbal behavior.

Are these results water to the doxasticist’s mill? On the face of it, it may seem so. After all, Rose et al. have bypassed a long and technical discussion and went right to the source for an answer, as it were. They have established that the folk actually do think of delusions as beliefs. But there are two issues here which stop the doxasticist from being able to lay claim to the empirical results above. First, the concept of belief used by the folk differs from that used by doxasticists about delusion. Second, the question (and hence the project) that interests the doxasticist is a different one from that which motivates Rose et al.

There is no shortage of philosophical...


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pp. 129-131
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