Irrationality and the Failures of Consciousness

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It is typical to think that delusion lies at the extreme end of epistemic or procedural irrationality. Setting aside those cases of delusion that involve self-deception, in fact, self-deception involves greater epistemic irrationality and/or more significant procedural irrationality than delusion. The fact that a self-deceptively favoured belief is threatened when it is the object of conscious attention along with the psychological history that led up to its adoption is mistakenly taken to show that the self-deceived are not lost to reason in the way that the deluded are but rather that the self-deceived are irrational in a way that those with delusions are not. A central process of belief formation ¬– doxastic deliberation – has two distinctive features: transparency and uncontrollability. Explanations typically offered of these features appealing to different ways in which belief is linked to truth – appealing to different kinds of teleology or normativity – or conditions on action fail. Instead, the explanation of these two features lies in the fact that conscious attention makes manifest the attractiveness of being disposed to act upon what we take to be true and the unattractiveness of being disposed to act upon what we take to be false. Many monothematic delusions derive from anomalous experiences that draw the subject’s attention. They are a consequence of the epistemic weight that attending consciously gives to what is presented as true along with a difficulty in attending specifically to things that don’t have the same impact upon our attention. These are mundane features of normal subjects. By contrast, the distinctive instability of the self-deceptively favoured belief reveals the substantial epistemic and procedural irrationality involved.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBelief, Imagination and Delusion
EditorsEma Sullivan-Bissett
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages39
ISBN (Print)9780198872221
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2024

Publication series

NameMind Association Occasional Series
PublisherOxford University Press

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