Irrationality and Pathology of Beliefs

Neuroethics 9 (2):147-157 (2016)
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Just as sadness is not always a symptom of mood disorder, irrational beliefs are not always symptoms of illness. Pathological irrational beliefs are distinguished from non-pathological ones by considering whether their existence is best explained by assuming some underlying dysfunctions. The features from which to infer the pathological nature of irrational beliefs are: un-understandability of their progression; uniqueness; coexistence with other psycho-physiological disturbances and/or concurrent decreased levels of functioning; bizarreness of content; preceding organic diseases known to be associated with irrational beliefs; treatment response to medical intervention, etc. Severe irrationality is sometimes caused by normal human motivation rather than by mental or physical dysfunction. Pure forms of self-deception may satisfy the diagnostic criteria of delusional disorder, but there may be no evidence that suggests that they are caused by illness. Although those with pathological delusions do not recognize their delusions as symptomatic of illness, differentiating pathological beliefs from normal irrational beliefs is vitally important: If a belief is pathological, psychiatrists must seriously consider treating the patient against her will. If it is not pathological, conversely, involuntary treatments are prohibited because they offend her basic autonomy.
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