(Un)reasonable doubt as affective experience: obsessive–compulsive disorder, epistemic anxiety and the feeling of uncertainty

Synthese 198 (7):6917-6934 (2019)
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Abstract

How does doubt come about? What are the mechanisms responsible for our inclinations to reassess propositions and collect further evidence to support or reject them? In this paper, I approach this question by focusing on what might be considered a distorting mirror of unreasonable doubt, namely the pathological doubt of patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder. Individuals with OCD exhibit a form of persistent doubting, indecisiveness, and over-cautiousness at pathological levels :743–758, 1992; Reed in Obsessional experience and compulsive behaviour: a cognitive-structural approach, Academic Press, Cambridge, 1985; Tolin et al. in Cogn Ther Res 27:657–669, 2003). I argue that the failure in OCD is of an affective nature, involving both excessive epistemic anxiety and hyperactive feelings of uncertainty. I further argue that our adaptive disposition to inquire about the right matters—that is, about propositions which are both epistemically risky and imply harmful possibilities—might depend on these affective mechanisms.

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Juliette Vazard
Institut Jean Nicod

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