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?