Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jennfier Radden: Delusions: Philosophical and Psychological Questions

Instructor: Jennifer Radden

Office: W-5-20

Tel: 287 6546

Office hours: Tues/Thurs 3.30-4.30 or by appointment

Course description

The delusions of madmen have long played a part in
philosophical analyses of knowledge and belief, providing a heuristic for
understanding skepticism and a foil against which models of rationality and
sound reasoning can be recognized. More recently, sharpened philosophical and
scientific interest in pathological delusions has directed us toward several
controversial questions about how they are to be defined and understood. Does a
difference in kind distinguish them from more everyday erroneous beliefs and
fixed convictions? Does their status rest on faulty reasoning, on content that
is false, on incomprehensibility, or on being un-shared by others – or on some
combination of these? How do the criteria for assigning delusion status
acknowledge the differing truth conditions among ordinary beliefs (those based
on observation in contrast to those that involve metaphysical claims, for
example). Are delusions always beliefs, or should we acknowledge that
attitudes, values and desires may be delusional?

In this course we look at recent attempts to define and
characterize delusion with a particular focus on how they reflect, and bear on,
claims about knowledge, certainty, and solipsism from Western philosophical


There will be two essays and a mid-term exam in this course,
each worth one third of the final grade. Attendance is expected and penalties
will result for students absent more than five times throughout the semester
for whatever reason.

Syllabus and Reading Guide

Part 1: Background from psychiatry. (Sept 2, 4)

(Reading: Selected first person accounts of delusion by
Perceval (edited by Bateson), Custance, Kaysen, Schreber, “Renee”[Sechehaye],
Saks, Slater, Lipton ( quoting alleged anthrax culprit David Ivins);
descriptions by Weyer, Kraepelin; Stanton and David 2000.)

Part 2. Kinds of delusions (Sept 9,11)

(Reading for Sept 9: Fulford, Thornton and Graham 2006:

(Reading for Sept 11: Jaspers 98-107, 408-413; Davies
et.al. 2002: 135-37)

Part 3. Traditional Criteria. (Sept 16,18,23, 25)

( Readings for Sept 16: Langdon
and Coltheart 2000: 184-198, Fine 2006: 79-97)

(Readings for Sept 18: Spitzer
1990: 389-397)

(Readings for Sept 23: Leudar and
Thomas 2000: 108-112[regular reserve desk])

Discussion class (Sept 25)

First essay due

Part 4. Philosopher’s madmen, skepticism and certainty;
solipsism, holism, hermeneutics and the space of reasons. (Sept 30, Oct 2, 9,
14, 16, 21).

Sept 30: The madness of being certain-or uncertain.

(Reading for Sept 30: Descartes Meditations 1&2;
Wittgenstein, selected passages from On Certainty-)

Oct 2: Schopenhauer on solipsism.

(Reading for Oct 2: Schopenhauer, selected passages and from
the regular reserve desk: Sass 1994: pages 86-112)

Oct 9: Schopenhauer and Sass.

Oct 14: epistemological holism

(reading : passages from Companion to Epistemology and from Dancy’s Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology, sent by email.)

October 16 hermeneutics

(Reading for Oct 15: Phillips 1996 [regular reserve desk])

Oct 21: meaning and the constitutive role of rationality in
Davidson (Reading: Bayne and Pacherie 2004 9”Expeirence, Belief and the
Interpretive Fold” discussion: 83-85)

Midterm exam (Oct 23)

Part 5. Four recent controversies in philosophical,
psychiatric and neuro-scientific literature
: (Oct 28, 30, Nov 4, 6, 13)

Continuum (bias) vs modularity (deficit) analyses. Do
delusions result from fallacious reasoning such as a tendency to jump to
conclusions that is merely a more extreme form of normal illogic? (Reading for
Oct 28: Jones, Delespaul and Os, a debate. 2003)

Is an essentialist definition possible? Or is
delusion some sort of Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept? (Reading for
Oct 30: Oltmanns 1988: pages 3-11[e-reserve])

Doxastic and meta-cognitive approaches. Are all
delusions forms of belief? (Readings for Nov 4-6: Berrios 1990, Fulford
1991, also Bayne and Pacherie 2005)

Top down vs bottom up causal accounts. Are delusional
states prompted by underlying abnormal experiences, rather than resulting from
reasoning bias? ( Readings for Nov 13: Langdon and Coltheart 2000: 207-213,
Hohwy 2004)

November 13: discussion class.

Part 6: dangerous delusions (Nov 18, 20, 25)

November 18: paranoid delusions and attributional bias. (Reading: Bentall 2003 ‘On the Paranoid World View’ [e-reserve])

November 20: Guest speaker: Dr Fayez El Gabalawi

( El Gabalawi, Political Extremism and Psychopathy as Mutually Reinforcing Phenomena [ Word file sent electronically])

November 25: Jim Jones’ delusions (reading: Twemlowe and Hough, ‘The Cult Leader as Agent of a Psychotic Fantasy’ [PDF sent electronically])

Part 7: Religious
Delusions and Religious Belief (Dec 2,4)

December 2: Where to begin?
(Reading: Fulford and Sadler, ‘Mapping the Logical Geography of Delusion and
Spiritual Experience’ [Word file sent electronically])

December 4: Is there anywhere to stand, or is delusion an essentially contested concept? (Reading: Radden, Commentary on Fulford and Sadler, ‘Mapping’ [Word file sent

Part 8: Connecting the dots (Dec 9,11)

Dec 9, Guest speaker: Kelso Cratsley, topic and readings to be announced.

Final essay due.

Dec 11. Last class.

Most readings are available on e-reserves. The exceptions
are a handful that I will put on regular reserve (Healy Library 3rd
floor), as well as Descartes’s Meditations, and several materials I’m
sending along as email attachments.


Bayne 2004 Experience, belief, and the interpretive fold. PP&P: pages 83-5.

Bayne and Pacherie 2005 In defense of doxastic conception of
delusions. Mind&Language.

Berrios, G. 1991. Delusion as ‘wrong beliefs’: a conceptual
history. British Journal of Psychiatry 159 (supp vol 14): 6-13.

Davies, M. and Coltheart 2003 Monothematic Delusions:
Towards a two-factor Account. PP&P

Descartes, Meditations 1&2

Fine,C 2006. A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts
and Deceives.
New York: WW Norton& Co.

Fulford 1991 Evaluative delusions: their significance for
philosophy and psychiatry. British Journal of Psychiatry Suppl.Nov (14):

Fulford, Thornton and Graham 2006 Oxford Textbook of
Philosophy and Psychiatry
London: Oxford University Press.

Garety, P. 1991 Reasoning and Delusions. British Journal
of Psychiatry
159 (supp.14) 14-18.

Gerrans, P. 2003 Cognitive Architecture and the Limits of

Ghaemi 2004 The Perils of Belief: Delusions Reconsidered. PP&P
Vol 11, No 1 (March) 49-54.

Gipps and Fulford 2004 Understanding the clinical concept
of delusion. International Review of Psychiatry.

Hohwy 2004 Top-down and bottom-up delusion formation. PP&P
Vol 11 (1) March

Jaspers 1963 General Psychopathology. Translated by
Hoenig and Hamilton. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Langdon and Coltheart 2000 The cognitive neuropsychology of
delusions. Mind &Language 15 (March):184-

Leeser and O’Donahue 1999 What is a delusion?
Epistemological dimensions. J Abnormal Psychology 108 (4): 687-94

Leudar and Thomas 2000. Voices of Reason, Voices of
Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations.
New York and London: Routledge.

Oltmans 1988 Approaches to the definition and study of
delusions. In Oltmanns and Maher eds Delusional Beliefs. New York: John

Peters, E. 2001 Are delusions on a continuum? The case of
religious and delusional beliefs. In Clarke (ed) Psychosis and spirituality:
Exploring the new frontier
: 191-207.

Phillips, J. 1996 Key Concepts: Hermeneutics. PP&P
Vol 3 (1): 61-69.

Sass, L. 1994. The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein,
Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Spitzer, M, 1990 On defining delusions. Comprehensive
.31 (5): 377-397.

Stanton and David 2000 First-person accounts of delusions. Psychiatric

Wittgenstein,L. 1963 On Certainty.

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