Wednesday 28 July 2010

W: Wittgenstein says p, therefore p is true.

(As a quick break from working through my huge email backlog...)

I went to Simon Hailwood and Logi Gunnarsson’s workshop on Psychological and Self-Alienation at the University of Dortmund last week which is one a series of three workshops on alienation (alienation and the environment; and alienation and politics, being the other two themes). As is sometimes the case with themed workshops or conferences, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the theme provided a genuine unity either within the one workshop or across all three. But my hunch is that any such unity would be as much made as found. It would be a very strange coincidence if ‘alienation’ simply picked out the same sort of issues in all three areas. So it may be too soon to tell.

I gave (for the fourth time) a paper on Sass and Wittgenstein and the uncanny but encountered for the first time a deep suspicion from a couple of american philosophers. Their worry was that I subscribed to some such principle as

W: Wittgenstein says p, therefore p is true.

(I should perhaps be a bit more careful in picking out things that Wittgenstein claims rather than says, of course. I was struck by an entry in the new Acumen book Wittgenstein: Key Concepts in which Heather Gert cuts through all the difficulty about the statement:

There is one thing of which one can say neither that it is one metre long, nor that it is not one metre long, and that is the standard metre in Paris. [Wittgenstein 1953 §50]

by arguing that there is textual evidence through comparisons that Wittgenstein does not assert in propria persona any such thing.)

They also expressed some concern about using philosophers’ names as a shorthand for positions (I’d described myself as an ex-Wittgensteinian and labelled a view of content ‘broadly Davidsonian’). It dawned on me that their suspicions were those I have of a strand of or mood I think I see in Continental philosophy in the UK in which the exegetical task of working out what Kant, eg., means completely drowns out the question of whether that view is true. (I hasten to add that I think that this is an occasional weakness not an essential feature.)

Now of course I would not have read as much Wittgenstein or Davidson or McDowell as I have if I didn’t think that they were often right about things or at the very least had some kind of insight. There is also a standard charitable hermeneutic approach which is that the plausibility of the view ascribed is a measure of interpretative success (which obviously need not be true). But over and above those two assumptions, all the best work on Wittgenstein takes the form of arriving at an interpretation by articulating an argument for it.

Perhaps this is particularly true of Wittgenstein (whose texts invite active interpretative work) but the main problem with W (exemplified, eg., by Gert’s article) is that one would need to know what p was to use the principle, but the work of identifying p (through argumentative articulation) makes W redundant.

Jolley, K.D. (ed) (2010) Wittgenstein: Key Concepts, Durham: Acumen
Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell

Dr Natalie Banner

Whilst I was away at Simon Hailwood and Logi Gunnarsson's workshop on Psychological and Self-Alienation at the University of Dortmund last week (following two weeks walking in Scotland), Natalie Banner had a successful PhD viva with Matthew Ratcliffe and Johan Seibers.

Her abstract reads thus:

Decision-making capacity is an increasingly important medico-legal concept. The recent Mental Capacity Act employs a cognitive, process-based test of capacity, but in many psychiatric conditions pathological beliefs and values impair capacity even when the decision-making process is logically coherent. In such cases, capacity assessments implicitly rely on normative epistemic and evaluative standards. This raises a worry for the capacity test‘s reliability, objectivity and tolerance of differences in beliefs and values.
There is currently little conceptual research on capacity and the normative standards underpinning its assessment. This thesis makes an original contribution to research by employing a number of philosophical approaches to map out a conceptual terrain within which questions about the substantive standards of capacity assessment can be framed.
Focusing on the nature of epistemic standards and third-person judgements about decision-making, the thesis examines the normative constraints determining what counts as a recognisable reason for a decision. It employs the theoretical apparatus of Davidson‘s project of Radical Interpretation to explore the epistemology of interpretation, interrogating the conditions under which intentional attribution and the provision of reason explanations for behaviour are possible. It is contended that beliefs are intrinsically rational and intersubjective, and that judgements of irrationality are only possible against a background of shared belief between interpreter and observed agent. This view is defended against the objection that rationality is too stringent a constraint on belief.
A misconception giving rise to this objection is then diagnosed. Drawing an analogy with Wittgenstein‘s rule-following considerations, it is submitted that the constitutive normativity of belief need not be codified in order to exert a genuine constraint on intentional behaviour. Rather, the norms of belief ought to be construed as emerging from shared practice. This indicates that normative judgements are disciplined through expertise and experience, rather than adherence to abstract principles. Finally, the implications of these insights for conceptualising and assessing capacity are considered.

Thursday 1 July 2010

14th INPP conference Gothenburg, Sweden

The website for next year's International Network for Philosophy and Psychiatry (INPP) conference in Gothenburg, Sweden is now here.

I have been asked to run one of four pre-conference afternoon long short course. Mine will be on: Meaning, understanding, explanation. I promise it will be interesting!

Another review of the Broome and Bortolotti collection

Here is a nice review from the The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 197, 78–80

When philosophers have applied their minds to mental illness, their aim has sometimes been to highlight the shortfalls and inconsistencies in prevalent concepts of the nature of mental disorders. At worst, this has led to the view that mental illness has no real existence and that it serves only as a means of stigmatising and excluding those who do not conform to expected patterns of behaviour. Although this has often been interesting and illuminating, it has been of little help to those of us who have to understand and treat those with mental illness. It has certainly not led to any reduction in the demand for psychiatric services. However, the approach in this book is refreshingly pragmatic and free of ivory-tower scepticism. As a result, it demonstrates the important contribution that philosophers can make when they accept the reality and complexity of mental illness.

This contribution is one that is becoming of increasing importance with developments in neuroscience, such as brain imaging and molecular genetics, as applied to mental illness. Science is able to investigate normal and abnormal mental functioning in ways that are becoming increasingly fine-grained. This is throwing into sharp relief puzzles about the interface between brain disturbance and abnormal experience. It also emphasises the need for scientists to have a clear concept of what it is that they seek to investigate before they begin the process of framing testable hypotheses. One psychopathological phenomenon that is discussed at length in this book is delusions. Are these top-down, the products of disturbed information-processing, or bottom-up, an immediate, non-inferential experience? Or is the deluded patient better regarded as inhabiting an alternative reality in which abnormal ideas arise in the context of a more pervasive disturbance of how the world is perceived? The experiments that are performed and the ways in which results are interpreted will depend on the answers that are given to questions such as these.

Matthew Broome and Lisa Bortolotti have assembled a stellar cast of contributors to this volume. They bring together philosophy and neuroscience in an attempt to give an account of psychopathology that is more detailed and penetrating than the standard descriptions and definitions. The quality of the writing and analysis is uniformly excellent without becoming inaccessible to a clinical readership. The combination of rigorous conceptual analysis and neuroscience will take psychiatry in new directions in future years. This book offers an important route map to that future.

John Callender Consultant Psychiatrist, Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen AB25 7ZH, Scotland, UK. Email: