(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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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 (OCD). Individuals with OCD exhibit a form of persistent doubting, indecisiveness, and over-cautiousness at pathological levels (Rasmussen and Eisen in Psychiatr Clin 15(4):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(6):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.

Author's Profile

Juliette Vazard
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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