Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Definition of Mental Disorder: Evolving but Dysfunctional?

Natalie Banner
I'm a former research fellow in the philosophy of psychiatry at King’s College London, now working in policy at the Wellcome Trust. In my academic research the definition of mental disorder was a frequent, seemingly intractable problem and in this post I want to query whether a definition may be needed at all.

In a previous post, Rachel Cooper talked about the potential advantages of the ambiguity offered by the DSM-5 definition of mental disorder. I very much agree that the stipulation of necessary and sufficient conditions is unlikely to succeed in mapping such complex messy and controversial phenomena as “mental disorders”. However, I am unsure whether in this particular case an ambiguous definition is quite so benign as Rachel implies. It is true that few clinicians will pay attention to the introductory text, being more concerned with the features of the diagnosis they are dealing with at any particular moment, but this is not to say that the definition provided is not an important and influential part of the manual.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Is Belief in God Irrational? A response

Joshua Cockayne
Firstly, I’d like thank Anna, Jon and Gary for their insightful comments and for raising some interesting areas to follow up. I will try to respond to these as best as possible.

First, I will respond to the question concerning religious diversity: the worry raised was that my defence of theistic belief would allow us to defend the rationality of incompatible beliefs such as beliefs in Hinduism and Christianity. 

I should clarify that the kinds of experience I had in mind, which provide immediate justification for theistic belief would be experiences of God as a person but not necessarily of the God of Christianity or Islam, for example. The kinds of experience I am interested in are much more basic in nature, such as ‘I am having an experience of a loving God’. This issue should be kept separate from the issue of which religion is closer to the truth, but it is interesting to note that my account will only apply to religions that rely on a personal relationship to God as a person. Admittedly each religion will interpret experience of God in light of their own tradition, but my focus is specifically on theistic belief rather than religious belief in general. In this sense, the kinds of beliefs that are interesting are very basic in nature and my account does not amount to a defence of fully fledged religious belief, only basic theistic belief. My example of Christian religious experience was perhaps misleading, but I merely used this example as it is the tradition with which I am most familiar.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Workshop: Dreams, Delusions and Early Modern Literature

The workshop “Dreams, Delusions and Early Modern Literature” was held at University of Birmingham (3-4 April 2014). The workshop was organized by Ita Mac Carthy and it is a part of Balzan Prize project, ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge‘. The aim of the workshop was to examine early modern literary texts that theorize the nature of dreams and delusions and describe individuals who fail to distinguish between what is real and unreal.

Although the workshop was mainly on literary studies, Phil Gerrans and I had the opportunity to give philosophical talks at the 'Cognitive Keywords Session'.

Gerrans, on the basis of this paper, talked about both delusion and dream. According to him, dream and delusion are in a sense similar phenomena, and the similarity consists in the fact both are caused by the abnormal functioning of reality-testing system. The reality-testing system is deactivated in dreams, while it is compromised in delusion. More precisely, so-called 'default mode network' is relatively disconnected from reality in delusion, and it is influenced by various cognitive biases in different levels.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Implicit Bias and Epistemic Innocence: Implications

In my last post I suggested some reasons for thinking that beliefs based on implicit biases (BBIB) were at least sometimes, epistemically innocent. In this post I will outline some implications of their being so. 

I am interested in two kinds of implication, if beliefs based on implicit bias are epistemically innocent, we might think that this tell us something about:

(1) Responsibility for implicit bias. 
(2) How we ought to take the implicit bias.

With respect to (1), I do not think BBIB being epistemically innocent brings anything new to the debate. It is the No Relevant Alternatives Condition that we ought to focus on here. If BBIB meet the No Relevant Alternatives Condition, this does not speak against the responsibility or no responsibility views. For example, Jennifer Saul argues that a ‘person should not be blamed for an implicit bias of which they are completely unaware that results solely from the fact that they live in a sexist culture’ (Saul 2013: 55). She goes further arguing that even once one becomes aware of some implicit bias one holds, it does not follow that one can then control how that bias affects one’s behaviour, and so one should still ought not be blamed for having it (Saul 2013: 55). Saul’s claim that individuals are unaware of their implicit bias is in line with beliefs based on them meeting the No Relevant Alternatives condition, so she may not object to my claim that BBIB meet this condition. You might think then, that BBIB being epistemically innocent (specifically: meeting the No Relevant Alternatives Condition), speaks for no responsibility views.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Is Belief in God Irrational? A Reply to Joshua

Anna Ichino
Thanks Joshua for your great post. I find your question about the rationality of religious beliefs* really interesting, and I’m sympathetic with your way of approaching it. I’ve just got a few doubts on some aspects of your answer on which I’d like to know more.

(*To be clear: by ‘religious beliefs’ here I refer, roughly, to the attitudes that religious people commonly avow, calling them ‘religious beliefs’.)

I think I agree with most of your claims; notably, with the negative ones. I surely agree that typical instances of religious beliefs are NOT beliefs-that: I argued along these lines in my last post. And I agree that, insofar as it is true that they’re not beliefs-that, religious beliefs are NOT irrational: it’s precisely because I take religious people to be as rational and sensible as anyone else that I don’t think they really believe that God exists (indeed, my position on this developed also as a reaction against positions – such as those of so-called ‘Brights’ – which charge religious people with an irrational view of the world, based on bad science, etc…).

On the other hand, I have some doubts concerning the positive parts of your claims. Once we have agreed on what religious beliefs are not, it remains to be explained what they are. Here is, I think, where our views differ; and I wonder whether they are alternative or they might be complementary.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Mental Capacities and Legal Responsibilities Conference

Jillian Craigie
The conference “Mental Capacities and Legal Responsibilities” was held at London’s Senate House last week (7-8 April 2014), as a part of my Wellcome Trust and Nuffield Foundation funded project, based in the Philosophy Department at University College London. The project is a comparative study of the way that mental incapacities due to psychiatric disorder are taken into account in legal decisions concerning the right to patient autonomy, and the attribution of criminal responsibility, in England and Wales.

The conference expanded on this theme, inviting speakers to discuss the clinical, legal and moral complexities raised by questions of mental capacity arising in diverse legal contexts. Legal tests of decision-making abilities can be used, for example, to determine whether you are allowed make your own treatment decisions, whether you can marry, whether you can consent to sex, your ability to participate in criminal proceedings (and therefore whether you can stand trial), and whether you will be held responsible for a criminal act. However, these standards are rarely considered side-by-side.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Is Belief in God Irrational?

Joshua Cockayne
My name is Joshua Cockayne. I am currently a PhD student at the University of York under the supervision of David Efird. I am interested in the epistemic justification for religious beliefs and whether it can ever be reasonable to believe in the existence of God.

Is belief in God irrational? William Clifford claimed that ‘It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ (1877) and this charge is often put to believers in God to demonstrate that their beliefs are irrational. I maintain that even if the publicly available evidence for the existence of God is ambiguous, that belief in God can be rational. I claim that a certain experience of God can immediately justify belief in God and thus render this belief rational. In what follows, I describe what it is to experience God and the epistemic value of such experience.

Typically, beliefs are concerned with knowledge that something is the case. For instance, I believe that there is thirty pounds in my wallet, I believe that I had a croissant for breakfast and I believe that I have a hospital appointment at three thirty this afternoon. All of these beliefs can be justified by appealing to publicly available evidence - namely, by looking in my wallet, checking my receipts, and reading today’s date in my diary.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Symposium on Re-conceptualizing Mental ‘Illness’

The symposium "Re-conceptualising Mental Illness: An Ongoing Dialogue Between Enactive Philosophy and Cognitive Science" was part of the AISB50 (Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour) conference. It took place at Goldsmiths College, University of London over a 2 day period (3-4 April, 2014). It attracted philosophers of mind and cognitive science, as well as psychologists, therapists and other professionals interested in emerging streams of thought, which attempt to overcome the traditional mind-body dualism.

Papers invited for presentation at the symposium reflected a wide variety of enactive approaches to human mind, mental conditions and psychotherapy. A common theme seemed to be grounded in the assumption that the mind is dynamic and cognition extends over processes of the brain, to include the entire body as well as affection. Such a view implies necessary alterations in effective treatment. Below you find a short selection of summarized presentations. Some of the presented papers have been published here.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

The Phenomenology of Delusion: Un-falsifiable, Impervious or Amenable to Revision?

Rachel Gunn
Some postulate that for certain kinds of delusions sensory input is distorted such that the evidence available to the subject is altered and this evidence is therefore powerful enough to resist counter arguments. In this case the subject employs normal cognitive processes to explain perceptual anomalies and this results in delusion (Maher 1974). If the experience of a subject provides or includes the evidence for a delusion and the experience is anomalous (outside ‘normal’ experience) then a third party cannot hope to grasp the subject’s explanation. Further, as Maher says, there is no point of intervention in any ordinary sense to dispute the subject’s delusion. If this theory holds water it is likely to only apply to a subset of delusional subjects.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Explaining Delusions (6)

This a response to Phil Corlett's contribution to the blog, posted on behalf of Max Coltheart.

Max Coltheart
Dear Phil

Let’s focus for the moment on the best-studied monothematic delusion, Capgras delusion, and let me ask you two questions so that we can decide whether your account differs from ours.

First question: there are 3 studies of autonomic responding to familiar faces in patients with Capgras delusion, and all showed that these deluded patients don’t show greater response when faces are familiar than when they are not, and general show weak faces. Would you agree that this abnormality is not a coincidence, but instead plays a causal role in the delusion? And if your answer is Yes, what do you see this causal role as being? (Our answer to this question: the absence of autonomic response to the face of a spouse is unexpected i.e. unpredicted, and that triggers a search for an explanation of the prediction error, which takes the form of a candidate belief).

Second question: if you do agree that this absence of autonomic responding to familiar faces is causally implicated in Capgras delusion, would you agree that it can’t be sufficient for the delusion to occur, since the same absence is seen in patients with ventromedial frontal damage, and yet these patients do not exhibit Capgras delusion? If your answer is Yes, does that not imply that there must be a second impairment present for the delusion to occur?

Thursday 3 April 2014

Workshop on Feminism in/and Philosophy

On 29th-29th March the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) held a conference on Feminism in/and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Invited speakers were Rae Langton (Cambridge), Michèle Le Doeuff (CNRS, Paris), and Jennifer Saul (Sheffield). Papers were also given by Elselijn Kingma (Southampton), Karen Margrethe Nielsen (Oxford), Paula Boddington (Oxford), Ema Sullivan-Bissett (Birmingham), Stella Sandford (Kingston), Aislinn O’Donnell (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick), Sandrine Berges (Bilkent), Alex Davies (Tartu), and Melissa Zinkin (Binghamton SUNY).

Langton opened the conference with her paper 'Accommodating Authority in Philosophical Language Games'. She was interested in different kinds of authority and how these interact. She noted that some speech acts will 'misfire' if the speaker does not have sufficient authority, and discussed language games: where a scorecard tracks play, norms govern appropriate play, and where 'rules of accommodation' mean the conversational score evolves unless blocked. She argued that bystanders and participants in conversations confer authority of the speaker by up-taking, blocking and failure to block. This has normative implications when considering gender norms and Langton suggested that we may have an imperfect duty to create a more just epistemic situation.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Explaining Delusions (5)

This is a response to Max Coltheart's contribution to the blog, posted on behalf of Phil Corlett. 
Phil Corlett

Thanks Max.

I suppose if a two-factor explanation of polythematic delusions is an open question, then an aberrant prediction error explanation of monothematic delusions is likewise open.

I think our theories have more in common than perhaps we are allowing with this debate and our apparent disagreement. I think we are talking about different levels of explanation (Marr, 1977). My implementational and algorithmic explanations may be overlapping with your computational one, but it seems you disagree. This is curious and unfortunate, since prediction error is at the heart of both of our explanations.

We make our prediction error case using behavioral and functional imaging data – if people with monothematic delusions were to show aberrant prediction error signals that correlate with delusion severity (as we showed in endogenous and pharmacological settings as well as in healthy individuals with odd beliefs), I would be inclined to favor an aberrant prediction error explanation (Corlett et al., 2010). I suspect they might. Which is to say, I think aberrant prediction error can account for monothematic delusions.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Thought Insertion and Immunity to Error of Misidentification

Matthew Parrott
On April 12, the University of Fribourg will be hosting a one-day workshop on delusions focusing on thought insertion. Gottfried Vosgerau (Dusseldorf) will be presenting a paper entitled 'Introspection and the Delusion of Thought Insertion' and I will be presenting an essay called 'Immunity to Error and the Experience of Thought Insertion'.

My essay examines the question of whether the phenomenon of thought insertion puts any pressure on the well-known principle that our first-personal way of knowing about thoughts rules out the possibility of misidentifying the subject of those thoughts. Prima facie, it seems that that a subject who reports an experience of thought insertion knows what she is thinking in a characteristically first-personal way but is wrong about who is thinking the thought (Campbell 1999). If this is right, then it suggests our ordinary first-person access to thoughts may not really be immune to errors of misidentification.