Three challenges from delusion for theories of autonomy

In Lubomira Radoilska (ed.), Autonomy and Mental Disorder. Oxford University Press. pp. 44-74 (2012)
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Abstract
This chapter identifies and explores a series of challenges raised by the clinical concept of delusion for theories which conceive autonomy as an agency rather than a status concept. The first challenge is to address the autonomy-impairing nature of delusions consistently with their role as grounds for full legal and ethical excuse, on the one hand, and psychopathological significance as key symptoms of psychoses, on the other. The second challenge is to take into account the full logical range of delusions, which may take the form of true or false factual beliefs, positive or negative evaluations, as well as the paradoxical delusion of mental illness. The third and final challenge is to make room for non-pathological or, autonomy-preserving delusions and to offer a credible way of distinguishing between these and pathological or, autonomy-impairing delusions. By setting out these challenges, we are able to, firstly, distinguish between two separate conceptions of objectivity that may be at work in existing accounts of delusions and, secondly, to put a spotlight on an elusive yet inescapable notion of agential success that underlies our thinking about autonomy as well as mental disorder.
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