Thursday, 31 October 2013

What's Positive about Positive Illusions?

Positive illusions provide a challenge to the once-accepted view that accurate beliefs about oneself and the world are conducive to wellbeing and mental health. Illusions are "beliefs that depart from reality" and they are positive when they involve unrealistic optimism about one's capacities, prospects, or control over the external environment. 

We can find three broad types of positive illusions, following Taylor and Brown (1994): (1) excessively positive self-appraisals; (2) the belief that one has greater control over events than it is actually the case; (3) more rosy views of the future than statistics can warrant. It is important that positive illusions are regarded as mild distortions of reality and do not involve "denying the obvious": most researchers interested in positive illusions are keen to distinguish positive illusions from cases of self-deception or from defence mechanisms. Taylor and Brown have shown not only that positive illusions are widespread in non-clinical populations, but that there are strong links between certain forms of positive illusion and the promotion of mental health (in terms of creativity and productivity), and physical health (in terms of prolonged longevity). 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Art and the Nature of Belief Conference

On 11th and 12th of October the Department of Philosophy at the University of York hosted an international conference on the topic of Art and the Nature of Belief, organised by Helen Bradley and Ema Sullivan-Bissett. The aim of the conference was to bring together philosophers of mind working on belief and its connection to truth with aestheticians working on beliefs gained from artworks.

We thought that there was an opportunity for a significant philosophical interaction between belief theorists and aestheticians which would illuminate the nature of belief for both parties. The interaction was intended to present the belief theorist with pertinent questions regarding the status of beliefs formed as a result of engaging with art and, in turn, encourage aestheticians to further consider the relations between art, belief, and truth.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Delusions: Not on a Continuum with Normal Beliefs


Tony David
Delusions are the hallmark of madness. Coming up with a precise definition of ‘delusion’ is nevertheless difficult and perhaps impossible, especially when concerned exclusively on epistemology (David, 1999). 

Most aspects of standard definitions have exceptions on which clinicians in practice agree. The notion that delusions like other psychotic phenomena are best viewed as lying on a continuum with normal beliefs is appealing but flawed (David, 2010). Delusions are multiply determined with many typical features but none essential and / or invariable. Delusions are more than the sum of their epistemic features. They are clinical phenomena that require a huge amount of contextual information before they can be understood (or before it can be concluded that they are un-understandable!). Sometimes a statement that would only be weakly eligible to be called a delusion, passes this threshold because the person expressing the utterance shows evidence of psychosis on other grounds. This 'reverse reasoning' would be wholly inadmissible epistemologically but is perfectly acceptable and indeed sensible in a clinical context. 

The delusion should be considered to be akin to ‘a syndrome’ and has similar utility.
David AS (1999) On the impossibility of defining delusions. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 6 (1), 17-20.
David AS (2010) Why we need more debate on whether psychotic symptoms lie on a continuum with normality. Psychological Medicine, 40: 1935-42.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Rise of Delusions in Philosophy

Recently I had the pleasure to update the Delusion entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I wrote the original version of it in 2009 and so much has happened in four years that I had to select topics or the entry would have become far too long.

It seemed to me there were several areas to revise and expand, and some entirely new debates to discuss. The most obvious sections to revise were: the one on the definition of delusion (given the subtle shifts in DSM-5 we previously reported in this blog); the one on whether the formation and maintenance of delusion can be regarded as rational (given the recent debate on Bayesianism initiated by the 2010 paper by Coltheart, Menzies and Sutton), the one on delusion formation theories, as in the original version too little space was dedicated to the prediction error theory defended by Jakob Hohwy and Phil Corlett among others; and the one on whether delusions are beliefs, considering the recent proposal by Schwitzgebel that delusions are neither beliefs nor non-beliefs, but in-between states, and the papers by Reimer, Graham and Bayne in this issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Implicit Bias, Moral Assessment and Awareness

Chloë FitzGerald
I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Geneva, currently working on a project about implicit bias in clinical care.  My background is in philosophy and I work in areas at the intersection of moral psychology, philosophy of mind, ethics and bioethics.


As Natalia and Jules have explained in previous posts, talk of implicit bias in social psychology typically refers to implicit associations between particular social groups, such as minority or oppressed racial groups, the obese, the elderly, women, transgender individuals etc., and negative evaluations or characteristics.  Much remains to be understood about how these associations work.  Psychologists may also distinguish between implicit stereotypes and implicit prejudices/attitudes, where implicit stereotypes refer to sets of belief-like states and implicit prejudice or implicit attitudes are ‘hotter’ states, more like preferences.  This use of ‘attitude’ can be confusing for philosophers, who tend to use attitude to refer to a wider range of mental states, including beliefs.