Monday, 24 March 2014

At the limits of shared intelligibility: delusions and non-doxasticism

At the limits of shared intelligibility: delusions and non-doxasticism. 

An abstract for a proposed talk (offered to the Philosophers Rally, Nijmegan, Netherlands, April 2014)

Delusions present a challenge to the attractive assumption that shared intelligibility is the mark of the mental since, according to Karl Jaspers, primary delusions are un-understandable. This has motivated a philosophical project to ‘solve simultaneously for understanding and utter strangeness’ in Naomi Eilan’s useful metaphor. That is, to provide a degree of understanding rather than mere explanation of the content of delusions whilst preserving their prima facie strangeness. In this presentation I will consider the merits of a recent approach: non-doxasticism. It takes seriously the disanalogies between delusions and normal belief-like states to argue that delusions are better understood to be some different kind of intentional state. I will argue, however, that on either of two broad versions of non-doxasticism, this approach cannot help with Eilan’s challenge and will draw some general conclusions about that challenge.

Some further comments

A familiar problem for delusion takes the form of an argument:
  1. Intentional mental states are essentially governed by the Constitutive Ideal of Rationality (cf the Generality Constraint).
  2. Delusions violate the Constitutive Ideal of Rationality.
  3. So delusions are not intentional mental states.
  4. But delusions seem like mental states.
This is much too fast but has echoes which go back to Jaspers and the apparent tension in his stress on empathic access as the heart of psychological understanding – suggesting that understandability is the mark of the mental – with his definition of primary delusions through un-understandability. In the face of it one might deny the first premiss but the danger here is that one thus gives up the project of shedding light on what marks out a state as a mental state. To avoid that, one would need to replace appeal to the Constitutive Ideal of Rationality with something.

A more modest response is to question the second premiss. Construed as world-answerable states, delusions appear to violate the Constitutive Ideal of Rationality. But not all mental states are bound by that Ideal in the same way. And hence if one construes delusions as some other kind of state, one can deny premiss 2 and hence avoid the conclusion. This is the more familiar recent version of non-doxasticism. 
Perhaps delusions are, or have elements of, acts of imagination? I do not think, however, of three interesting and potentially promising versions of this approach that they can work.

But there is a different way of thinking about non-doxasticism. This is not so much to think of delusions as within the conceptual map of intentional states, though not the beliefs, but rather to think of them as pushing the idea intentional states to the limit. One further preliminary point: delusions may not press the limits of shared intelligibility in the same way.