Delusion, Proper Function, and Justification

Neuroethics 14 (2):113-124 (2020)
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Among psychiatric conditions, delusions have received significant attention in the philosophical literature. This is partly due to the fact that many delusions are bizarre, and their contents interesting in and of themselves. But the disproportionate attention is also due to the notion that by studying what happens when perception, cognition, and belief go wrong, we can better understand what happens when these go right. In this paper, I attend to delusions for the second reason—by evaluating the epistemology of delusions, we can better understand the epistemology of ordinary belief. More specifically, given recent advancements in our understanding of how delusions are formed, the epistemology of delusions motivates a proper functionalist account of the justification of belief. Proper functionalist accounts of the justification of belief hold that whether a belief is justified is partly determined by whether the system that produces the belief is functioning properly. Whatever pathology is responsible for delusion formation, restoring it to its proper function resolves the epistemic condition, an effect which motivates proper functionalism.

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Parker Crutchfield
Western Michigan University School Of Medicine


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