On the Social Epistemology of Psychedelic Experience

Philosophical Psychology (forthcoming)
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Both traditional and recent accounts of the beneficial and therapeutic effects of psychedelic experiences tie these effects to specifically epistemic changes, for example the enabling of spiritual or psychological insight, or disruption of problematic beliefs or thought patterns. While these alleged benefits have sometimes been thought to be facilitated by false or even delusional beliefs (e.g. Pollan 2015), recent philosophical discussion strikes a more optimistic tone, arguing that the epistemic risks involved with psychedelic drug use tend to be relatively benign and outweighed by epistemic benefits (Letheby 2021). In this paper, we seek to nuance this picture by drawing attention to the crucial role played by social factors in determining the epistemic effects of psychedelic experiences. We argue that the very openness of mind and heightened sense of clarity and certainty that is often thought to facilitate the epistemic benefits of psychedelic drug use, also make the user more vulnerable to adverse epistemic influence from the social environment, to a degree not acknowledged in the current literature. Examining the epistemic influences of the social environment is thus important for understanding the necessary precautions of informed consent and overall safe drug use.

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