Thursday 12 September 2013

Relationism, Rationalism, and the Teleological Account of Belief

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
In my last blog post I wrote about mine and Paul Noordhof’s work on relationist accounts of experience and delusional belief formation. The conclusion from that post was that the relationist who denies phenomenal character to hallucinatory experience could not accept any empiricist account (an account which gives anomalous experience a role in the explanation of delusion formation) of what we called ‘positive delusions’ (delusions involving hallucinatory experience). This meant that the relationist must adopt a rationalist account of delusion formation, an account which refuses ‘to ground the delusion in an abnormal experience’ (Bayne and Pacherie 2004: 81). 

We think this means that relationism incurs a considerable cost—those delusions arising from positive experiences require a completely different theory: not a one-stage empiricist theory, nor even a two-stage theory, but rather a rationalist theory. Relationism forces one into recognising a discontinuity in the nature of delusion that there seems no reason to recognise from the study of delusion alone.

Paul Noordhof
We think that this is not the end of the ramifications for our target relationist: in having to adopt a rationalist account of delusion formation, the relationist cannot adopt either a teleological account or a normative account of belief.

The teleological account of belief holds that belief is a constitutively aim-governed activity such that ‘believing that p essentially involves having as an aim to believe p truly’ (Steglich-Petersen 2009: 395). This aim is realised in one of two ways. In the deliberative case, where the subject deliberates over what to believe, the aim of belief is realised in the subject’s aim qua a believer. In the non-deliberative case, where the subject comes to have beliefs without deliberation (for example, beliefs arising out of perception), the aim of belief is realised by ‘some sub-intentional surrogate of such intentions in the form of truth-regulated […] mechanisms’ (Steglich-Petersen 2006: 510).

What teleological theorists might be inclined to say about delusion is the following: the delusional subject aims to believe that p only if p is true, and in doing so she adopts what strikes her as a plausible hypothesis given her anomalous experience. She is sensitive to evidential considerations in the normal way. If the teleologist says this, delusional beliefs are going to present an unproblematic case. The subject still aims at truth—she just misses—owing to her being led astray by her anomalous experience.

However, this line is ruled out by a rationalist account of delusional belief formation and hence is not available to our target relationist. As we saw, rationalist accounts claim that delusions are not grounded in any abnormal experience of the subject, belief formation is the result of injury alone, there is no consideration of evidence and no rationalisation of one’s experiences. This account of delusion is incompatible with the teleological line sketched above, because on the rationalist story a delusional belief is not formed as a result of any intention of the agent.

Maybe the relationist has recourse to the claim that delusions are non-deliberative beliefs, so in cases of delusion the agent need not have the aim of regarding p as true only if it really is. However the relationist must then say why delusions still come out as beliefs on the teleological account. They could say that delusions are regulated for truth (by some sub-intentional mechanism), and it is because of this truth regulation—which they share with deliberative beliefs—that they are classified as beliefs on this account (Steglich-Petersen 2006: 511).

However, this does not help the relationist because on the rationalist account, not even this sort of regulation is going on: delusions do not look to have been regulated by truth at all. On the rationalist account the subject’s anomalous experiences play no role in the belief formation, so it is not open to the relationist attracted to the teleological account to claim that one’s delusional belief has been sub-intentionally regulated for truth on the basis of the subject’s experiences. If the rationalist account of delusion is right then, the teleological account of belief is false.

Our target relationist then has to rule out empiricist accounts of delusional belief formation. His remaining option is to adopt a rationalist account. However, if one is a rationalist about delusional belief formation, one’s options for accounting for the connection between belief and truth become limited, one cannot accept the teleological account of belief. In the next post I’ll write about why we also think our target relationist has to also rule out the normative account of belief.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for very interesting posts with a lot of new ideas!

    You argue that relationalists can't appeal to empiricism and hence they need to accept rationalism. This argument is, I think, too quick. It seems to me that rationalism is not the only alternative to empiricism.

    First, relationalists will not deny that hallucination is subjectively indistinguishable from veridical experience. Then, one story that they can tell about delusion formation is that delusions are formed in response to hallucinatory states that do not have any phenomenology themselves but nonetheless are subjectively indistinguishable from veridical, phenomenal states. You don't want to call this an empiricist story. But, it is obvious that this is not a rationalist one.

    Second, some researchers think that delusions are formed in totally unconscious processes, and there is no role for abnormal conscious experience. Coltheart et al. argue, for instance, that 'the abnormality in Capgras delusion, which prompts the exercise of abductive inference in an effort to generate a hypothesis to explain this abnormality, is not an abnormality of which the patient is aware. [...] What’s conscious is only the outcome that this chain of processes generated: the conscious belief ‘‘This person isn’t my wife.’’' (Coltheart et al. 2010, 264) This is not an empiricist view anymore. But, obviously, this is not a rationalist one either.

    But, anyway, I am looking forward to reading the next post!

    Coltheart, M., Menzies, P., & Sutton, J., 2010, Abductive inference and delusional belief, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 15(1), 261-287.


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