Core project outputs

Lisa Bortolotti. The Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions. Monograph in preparation.

Lisa Bortolotti (2015). The epistemic innocence of motivated delusionsConsciousness & Cognition 33, 490-499.

Abstract: Delusions are defined as irrational beliefs that compromise good functioning. However, in the empirical literature, delusions have been found to have some psychological benefits. One proposal is that some delusions defuse negative emotions and protect one from low self-esteem by allowing motivational influences on belief formation. In this paper I focus on delusions that have been construed as playing a defensive function (motivated delusions) and argue that some of their psychological benefits can convert into epistemic ones. Notwithstanding their epistemic costs, motivated delusions also have potential epistemic benefits for agents who have faced adversities, undergone physical or psychological trauma, or are subject to negative emotions and low self-esteem. To account for the epistemic status of motivated delusions, costly and beneficial at the same time, I introduce the notion of epistemic innocence. A delusion is epistemically innocent when adopting it delivers a significant epistemic benefit, and the benefit could not be attained if the delusion were not adopted. The analysis leads to a novel account of the status of delusions by inviting a reflection on the relationship between psychological and epistemic benefits.

Lisa Bortolotti (2015). The epistemic innocence of elaborated and systematised delusions in schizophrenia. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

In this pap
er I ask whether elaborated and systematised delusions emerging in the context of schizophrenia have the potential for epistemic innocence. I define epistemic innocence as the status of those cognitions that have significant epistemic benefits that could not be attained otherwise. In particular, I propose that a cognition is epistemically innocent if it delivers some significant epistemic benefit to a given agent at a given time; and if alternative cognitions delivering the same epistemic benefit are unavailable to that agent at that time. Elaborated and systematised delusions in schizophrenia are typically false and exemplify failures of rationality and self-knowledge. Empirical studies suggest that they may have psychological benefits by relieving anxiety and enhancing meaningfulness. Moreover, they have been considered as adaptive in virtue of the fact that they enable automated learning to resume after a significant disruption caused by incorrect prediction-error signalling. I argue that such psychological benefits and adaptive features also have positive epistemic consequences. More precisely, delusions can be a means to restoring epistemic functionality in agents who are overwhelmed by hypersalient experiences in the prodromal stage of psychosis. The analysis leads to a more complex view of the epistemic status of delusions than is found in the contemporary philosophical literature and has some implications for clinical practice.

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
(2015). Implicit bias, confabulation, and epistemic innocenceConsciousness & Cognition 33, 648-560.

In this paper I explore the nature of confabulatory explanations of action driven by implicit bias. I claim that such explanations can have significant epistemic benefits in spite of their obvious epistemic costs, and that such benefits are not otherwise obtainable to the subject at the time at which the explanation is offered. I start by outlining the kinds of cases I have in mind, before characterizing the phenomenon of confabulation by focusing on a few common features. Then I introduce the notion of epistemic innocence to capture the epistemic status of those cognitions which have both obvious epistemic faults and some significant epistemic benefit. A cognition is epistemically innocent if it delivers some epistemic benefit to the subject which would not be attainable otherwise because alternative (less epistemically faulty) cognitions that could deliver the same benefit are unavailable to the subject at that time. I ask whether confabulatory explanations of actions based on implicit bias have epistemic benefits and whether there are genuine alternatives to forming a confabulatory explanation in the circumstances in which subjects confabulate. On the basis of my analysis of explanations of actions guided by implicit bias, I argue that such confabulations have the potential for epistemic innocence. I conclude that epistemic evaluation of confabulatory explanations ought to take into account the context in which the cognition occurs.

Lisa Bortolotti & Kengo Miyazono (2015). The ethics of delusional belief. Erkenntnis.

In this paper we address the ethics of adopting delusional beliefs and we apply consequentialist and deontological considerations to the epistemic evaluation of delusions. Delusions are characterised by their epistemic shortcomings and they are often defined as false and irrational beliefs. Despite this, when agents are overwhelmed by negative emotions due to the effects of trauma or previous adversities, or when they are subject to anxiety and stress as a result of hypersalient experience, the adoption of a delusional belief can prevent a serious epistemic harm from occurring. For instance, delusions can allow agents to remain in touch with their environment overcoming the disruptive effect of negative emotions and anxiety. Moreover, agents are not blameworthy for adopting their delusions if their ability to believe otherwise is compromised. There is evidence suggesting that no evidence-related action that would counterfactually lead them to believe otherwise is typically available to them. The lack of ability to believe otherwise, together with some other conditions, implies that the agents are not blameworthy for their delusions. The examination of the epistemic status of delusions prompts us to (1) acknowledge the complexity and contextual nature of epistemic evaluation, (2) establish connections between consequentialist and deontological frameworks in epistemology, and (3) introduce the notion of “epistemic innocence” into the vocabulary of epistemic evaluation.

Lisa Bortolotti & Ema Sullivan-Bissett. The epistemic innocence of clinical memory distortions. Article under review.

Lisa Bortolotti & Ema Sullivan-BissettCosts and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Consciousness & Cognition 33, 487-489. 

Introduction to the special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. The issue was published in May 2015 and all eight papers included there are available open access.

Jill Craigie & Lisa Bortolotti. Rationality, Diagnosis, and Patient Autonomy in Psychiatry. In J. Sadler et al. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Psychiatric Ethics. Oxford University Press.

In this chapter, our focus is the role played by notions of rationality in the diagnosis of mental disorders and in the practice of overriding patient autonomy in psychiatry. We describe and evaluate different hypotheses concerning the relationship between rationality and diagnosis, raising questions about what features underpin psychiatric categories. These questions reinforce widely held concerns about the use of diagnosis as a justification for overriding autonomy, which have motivated a shift to mental incapacity as an alternative justification. However, this approach too has recently been criticized from a mental disability rights perspective. Our analysis of the relationship between mental capacity and rationality is used to illuminate these concerns, and further to investigate the relationship between rationality and psychiatric diagnosis.

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Lisa Bortolotti, Matthew Broome & Matteo Mameli. Moral and Legal Implications of the Continuity between Delusional and Non-delusional Beliefs. Chapter forthcoming in G. Keil et al. (eds.) Vagueness in Psychiatry. Oxford University Press.

Kengo Miyazono & Lisa Bortolotti (2014/2015). The Causal Role Argument against Doxasticism about DelusionsAvant V (3): 30-50.

In this paper we consider an argument that is very influential in the philosophical literature, the argument from causal role against the view that delusions are beliefs. The argument has two premises, that many delusions fail to play belief-roles and that playing belief-roles is necessary for a mental state to be a belief. We assess both premises and suggest that they can be resisted.

Bill Fulford, Lisa Bortolotti & Matthew Broome (2014). Taking the Long View: an Emerging Framework for Translational Psychiatric Science. World Psychiatry 13 (2): 110-117.

Understood in their historical context, current debates about psychiatric classification, prompted by the publication of the DSM-5, open up new opportunities for improved translational research in psychiatry. In this paper, we draw lessons for translational research from three time slices of 20th century psychiatry. From the first time slice, 1913 and the publication of Jaspers' General Psychopathology, the lesson is that translational research in psychiatry requires a pluralistic approach encompassing equally the sciences of mind (including the social sciences) and of brain. From the second time slice, 1959 and a conference in New York from which our present symptom-based classifications are derived, the lesson is that, while reliability remains the basis of psychiatry as an observational science, validity too is essential to effective translation. From the third time slice, 1997 and a conference on psychiatric classification in Dallas that brought together patients and carers with researchers and clinicians, the lesson is that we need to build further on collaborative models of research combining expertise-by-training with expertise-by-experience. This is important if we are to meet the specific challenges to translation presented by the complexity of the concept of mental disorder, particularly as reflected in the diversity of desired treatment outcomes. Taken together, these three lessons - a pluralistic approach, reliability and validity, and closer collaboration among relevant stakeholders - provide an emerging framework for more effective translation of research into practice in 21st century psychiatry.

Chapter 4: Lisa Bortolotti (2014). Irrationality. Polity Press.

Description of the book contents:
We talk about irrationality when behaviour defies explanation or prediction, when decisions are driven by emotions or instinct rather than by reflection, when reasoning fails to conform to basic principles of logic and probability, and when beliefs lack coherence or empirical support. Depending on the context, agents exhibiting irrational behaviour may be described as foolish, ignorant, unwise or even insane. The book examines the standards against which we measure human behaviour, and reviews the often serious implications of judgements of irrationality for ethics and policy. It argues that we should adopt a more critical stance towards accepted standards of rationality in the light of the often surprising outcomes of philosophical inquiry and cognitive science research into decision making.

Project-related outputs

Lisa Bortolotti & Rachel Gunn (forthcoming). Review of The Measure of Madness by Philip Gerrans (MIT Press). British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Lisa Bortolotti & Kengo Miyazono. Are alien thoughts beliefs? Commentary on Jordi Fernandez’s Transparent Minds. Teorema 4 (1): 135-148.

In this brief commentary, we examine the account of thought insertion provided by Jordi Fernández in his book, Transparent Minds. We highlight some of the strengths of the account, and raise one main objection to it. In mainstream philosophical accounts of thought insertion, people who report the delusion are thought to have ownership of the alien thoughts, but to lack a sense of agency with respect to such thoughts. Fernández correctly identifies the limitations of mainstream accounts of thought insertion and articulates a promising alternative. As he does so, though, he relies on the claim that alien thoughts are beliefs, and we challenge that claim. People with thought insertion do not commit to the truth of the content of the alien thought.

Lisa Bortolotti & Ema Sullivan-Bissett (2014). Review of New Essays on Belief edited by Nicolaj Nottelmann (Palgrave 2013). Dialectica 68 (1): 141-146.

Kengo Miyazono, Lisa Bortolotti & Matthew Broome (2015). Prediction-error and Two-factor Theories of Delusion Formation: Competitors or Allies? In N. Galbraith (ed.) Aberrant Beliefs and Reasoning. Psychology Press.

In this chapter, we examine the relationship between the two-factor theory and the prediction-error theory in some detail. Our view is that the prediction-error theory does not have to be understood as a rival to the two-factor theory. We do not deny that there are some important differences between them. However, those differences are not as significant as they have been presented in the literature. Moreover, the core ideas of the prediction-error theory may be incorporated into the two-factor framework. For instance, the aberrant prediction-error signal that is posited by prediction-error theorists can be (or underlie) the first factor contributing to the formation of some delusions, and help explain the content of those delusions. Alternatively, the aberrant prediction-error signal can be (or underlie) the second factor, and help explain why the delusion is adopted and maintained.

Talks by project team

Lisa Bortolotti, Epistemic Shortfalls and Benefits of Delusions, keynote talk at the Seventh Meeting of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy (SEFA), Madrid (12 September 2013).

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Epistemic Innocence: Grist to the One-Stager's Mill, Mind & Reason Group, Philosophy Department, University of York (27 November 2013).

Lisa Bortolotti, The Epistemic Status of Delusions, staff research seminar at the University of Birmingham (13 January 2014).

Lisa Bortolotti, The Epistemic Innocence Project: The Case of Delusions, CamPoS seminar (research seminar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science), University of Cambridge (29 January 2014).

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Epistemically Innocent Delusions: Support for the One-Stage Account, Epistemology Seminar, University of Edinburgh (29 January 2014).

Lisa Bortolotti, Are Distorted Memories Epistemically Innocent?, History and Philosophy of Medicine Seminar, University of Bristol (11 March 2014).

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Are Beliefs Based on Implicit Bias against Women in Philosophy Epistemically Innocent?, SWIP conference Feminism in/and Philosophy, All Souls College, University of Oxford (28 March 2014).

Lisa Bortolotti, Epistemic Benefits of Elaborated and Systematised Delusions in Schizophrenia, Workshop on Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions, University of Birmingham (8 May 2014).

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, The Epistemic Status of Confabulatory Explanations, Workshop on Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions, University of Birmingham (8 May 2014).

Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Epistemic Innocence and Delusion Formation, Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and Mind Association, University of Cambridge (12 July 2014) and at the Belief Formation Research Group at Macquarie University (29 August 2014).

Lisa Bortolotti and Kengo Miyazono, The Epistemic Value of DelusionsJoint Session of the Aristotelian Society and Mind Association, University of Cambridge (13 July 2014).
Lisa Bortolotti,
17 Jul 2015, 11:17
Lisa Bortolotti,
3 Apr 2015, 12:08
Lisa Bortolotti,
1 Sep 2014, 13:23
Lisa Bortolotti,
3 Apr 2015, 12:28
Lisa Bortolotti,
11 Jul 2015, 13:41
Lisa Bortolotti,
18 Jan 2015, 23:22
Lisa Bortolotti,
16 Jun 2015, 01:49
Lisa Bortolotti,
3 Jun 2015, 13:51