Saturday 18 January 2014

Diagnosing the DSM

Rachel Cooper
I’m a philosopher working mainly on conceptual problems surrounding the DSM (the main classification of mental disorders used by psychiatrists). This post looks at how a certain type of epistemic imperfection – ambiguity – can be the strategically useful, by considering the definition of mental disorder in the most recent edition of the DSM (DSM-5, published 2013).  

During its development, two distinct definitions of “mental disorder” were drafted for the DSM-5. The first was an iteration of the previous DSM definition and took mental disorder to be a value-laden concept, i.e. it claimed that disorders are necessarily harmful. The second definition characterized mental disorder as mental dysfunction, and aimed to offer a value-free account. The working groups said that a decision between these two definitions would be made at a later date. Note that philosophers of medicine generally hold that value-laden and value-free accounts of disorder are competing accounts. To be consistent one has to opt for one or the other.

Friday 17 January 2014

Religious Beliefs?

Anna Ichino
My PhD focuses on the relationships between belief and imagination. After having posted, together with Greg, on beliefs from fiction, now I’d like to talk of religious beliefs. How this is related to imagination, hopefully will become clearer in what follows.

Though we all commonly talk of superstitious and religious beliefs, I see reasons to doubt that, in many cases, they really are beliefs; and even to doubt that, in spite of appearances, we really take them to be beliefs.

My doubts may look more plausible for superstitions: perhaps you already agree with me that few normally educated adults in our society really believe that walking under ladders brings bad luck. Religious ideas, however, seem to be different – far more serious things: why to deny that people really believe them?

Thursday 16 January 2014

Epistemic Innocence (part 5)

This is the last in a series of posts on epistemic innocence, and it is about memory. In the context of dementia and other psychiatric disorders featuring serious memory impairments, some distorted memories seem to present us with a trade-off between accuracy and wellbeing.

Autobiographical memories are often distorted to fill gaps in knowledge about the past, or are distorted in a self-enhancing way, and thus such memory reports may increase one's self-confidence and ultimately one's wellbeing if they go unchallenged. However, the price to pay is that memory reports lack correspondence with reality, and this compromises the person’s knowledge of her past.

In the project, we argue that it is too simplistic to embrace the trade-off view, because distorted memories can carry significant epistemic benefits that would be unattainable without such memories. To characterise the status of cognitions that are inaccurate, but also epistemically beneficial, we are developing the notion of epistemic innocence. We shall defend the view that some distorted memories have good epistemic-innocence potential.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Epistemic Innocence (part 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts Lisa and I are writing on Epistemic Innocence. So far Lisa has introduced the two conditions we think characterize epistemic innocence, I have written about the Availability Condition, and Lisa has written about the Epistemic Benefit condition. In this post I want to outline some reasons for thinking that delusional beliefs, at least sometimes, meet these two conditions. In her next post, Lisa will apply the notion of epistemic innocence to memory.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Epistemic Innocence (part 3)

In a series of posts on epistemic innocence, Ema and I are sharing our initial thoughts on this new notion. In my first post, I talked about two conditions that imperfect cognitions (delusional beliefs, distorted memories and confabulatory hypotheses) need to meet to count as epistemically innocent: (1) the "epistemic benefit" condition and (2) the "no relevant alternatives" condition. The idea is that an imperfect cognition is epistemically innocent if it has some genuinely epistemic benefit that could not be obtained otherwise.

In her last post, Ema described in some more detail condition (2). Here, I want to focus on condition (1) by offering an example of the epistemic benefits that imperfect cognitions could have. Take delusions, one of the paradigmatic manifestations of irrationality, what Tony David on this blog called the "hallmark of madness". Delusions can be regarded as irrational in many ways: they are likely to conflict with other beliefs the subject has, they are implausible given what the subject knows, they are strenuously resistant to counter-evidence (as we discussed previously, DSM 5 defines them as "fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in the light of conflicting evidence").