Thursday 13 August 2015

Joint Session 2015: Open Session on Irrationality

In this post I summarise the four papers presented in the Irrationality session of the Open Sessions at the 89th Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, held at the University of Warwick (pictured above) on 10th-12th July this year.

The session began with Cristina Borgoni (Graz) with her paper ‘Pluralism about Dissonance Cases and the Contradictory-Belief View’. Cristina started by identifying the structural features of what she identified as dissonance cases, in brief: an individual sincerely assents to p, but her behavior suggests that she believes not-p. She considered unified views of dissonance cases which have it that all such cases exemplify the same psychological phenomenon.

She offered three examples of dissonance cases and suggested that unified views would struggle to accommodate them. She proposed a pluralist interpretational principle according to which what underlies explicit dissonance is what identifies the psychology of the dissonant person. She finished by arguing that the contradictory-belief view can successfully interpret the cases which were problematic for unified views.

Next I (Birmingham) gave my paper ‘Unimpaired Abduction to Alien Abduction: Lessons on Delusion Formation’. I argued that alien abduction belief presents an interesting phenomenon which can inform the debate on monothematic delusion formation. I started by distinguishing empiricist from rationalist approaches to monothematic delusion formation and noted that I wanted to defend the one-factor empiricist approach, taking multi-factor empiricists as my opponents, and putting rationalism aside.

Next I outlined the kinds of experience abductees report, and gave a one-factor explanation of why they come to believe that they were abducted by aliens. I suggested that if a one-factor account can be given of this case, it can too be given for (other) cases of monothematic delusion, since there are no relevant differences between alien abduction belief and (other) monothematic delusions which indicate the need for additional explanatory factors. I concluded that a defence of my preferred account can be informed by an investigation into alien abduction belief.

Christoph Michel (Stuttgart) was the third speaker in the session with his paper ‘Norms of Rationality and Attitude Theory’. He considered the consequences of recent debates about the norms of rationality for attitude theory. Rather than prior intuitive and domain-general norms containing robust internal states, norms for rationality are context-sensitive and favour a view of attitudes themselves as being context-dependent entities. This view was motivated by empirical investigations into conditional reasoning and context-effects observed by descriptive choice-theory. Adaptive attitudes, on his view, turn out to be subject to a meta-norm of context-sensitivity.

This, he argued, makes adaptive attitudes a function of context rather than robust static entities, ordered by principles of logic, as dispositionalism and functionalism in the philosophy of mind traditionally postulate. Attitude-stability is regarded as a function of context-stability where stable Task/Context-Models play the role of programs for attitude-construction in context. The non-static view of attitudes offers a procedural account of irrationality that does not require synchronic inconsistency at a state-level.

Closing the session was Anneli Jefferson (KCL) with her paper ‘Medicalization of Mental Illness—Treading the Line between the Trivialization of Psychiatry and Scientific Discovery’. Anneli began by outlining the factors driving medicalization, and raised some criticisms about such medicalization. One worry is that new diagnoses do not really target a distinct condition, another is that diagnoses do not target a disorder at all, and finally that diagnoses can do more harm than good. Following Rachel Cooper in her recent book Diagnosing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2014, which Rachel has written about in her blog post), Anneli raised some questions which mapped onto these three concerns.

When we are evaluating new diagnoses Anneli suggested that we ask whether the condition is distinct from other mental disorders and from non-disordered states and processes. She claimed that when we are evaluating whether something is a disorder we need a notion of dysfunction, though this alone will not be enough unless it brings normativity with it. Finally, with respect to whether diagnoses do more harm than good Anneli suggested that we should think carefully about what we achieve when we label a condition as a disorder, what the costs of such labeling are, and how the question of whether something is a disorder and the question of whether it is helpful to label something as a disorder interact.

The session was a productive one and I am pleased to have been part of it. Congratulations to the local organisers at Warwick for organising a terrific Joint Session!

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