Authors
Kengo Miyazono
Hokkaido University
Lisa Bortolotti
University of Birmingham
Abstract
Thought insertion is a common delusion in schizophrenia. People affected by it report that there are thoughts in their heads that have been inserted by a third party. These thoughts are self-generated but subjec-tively experienced as alien (hereafter, we shall call them alien thoughts for convenience). In chapter 5 of Transparent Minds, Jordi Fernández convincingly argues that the phenomenon of thought insertion can be accounted for as a pathology of self-knowledge. In particular, he argues that the application of the bypass model of self-knowledge can shed light on what is amiss in people with thought insertion. In this brief commentary, we examine the proposal by Fernández, highlight some of its strengths, and raise one main objection to it. In mainstream philosophical accounts of thought insertion, people who report the delusion are thought to have ownership of the alien thoughts, but to lack a sense of agency with respect to such thoughts, and this is supposed to explain why they ascribe the thoughts to some-one else. Fernández correctly identifies the limitations of mainstream accounts of thought insertion. First, to claim that people with the delu-sion of thought insertion own the alien thoughts does not sit well with the phenomenology of thought insertion as it is reflected in people’s self-reports. Second, people do not need to experience a sense of agency with respect to a thought in order to ascribe the thought to themselves. Sense of agency is too demanding a condition for self-ascription. Fernández puts forward a novel account of thought insertion, at-tempting to solve the problems identified with mainstream accounts. He defends the view that thought insertion is a failure of self-knowledge that consists in the person failing to ascribe one of her be-liefs to herself. Similar accounts to the one Fernández develops in the chapter have been defended by Bortolotti and Broome (2009) and Pickard (2010). For Fernández, the failure in self-ascription is due to the fact that the person with thought insertion does not feel pressured to endorse the content of a belief that she has [Fernández (2013), p. 142]. Fernández explains this phenomenon in detail by reference to the bypass model of self-knowledge. When Fernández develops his own proposal, he relies on the claim that the alien thought is a belief. We challenge this claim.We agree with Fernández that, in thought insertion, the person does not ascribe the alien thought to herself and does not commit to the content of the thought being true, in spite of the thought being self-generated. Such considerations powerfully suggest to us that the alien thought is not a belief. Given the elusive nature of mental states in general and beliefs in particular, this may seem just a terminological issue. But in the present context, whether the alien thought is a belief is important in order to offer a characterisation of thought insertion that makes jus-tice to the first-person reports and other behavioural manifestations of people with the delusion. One may also argue that, as the model of self-knowledge Fernández applies to alien thoughts, that is, the bypass model, is a model of self-knowledge for beliefs, such a model could only feature in the explanation of thought insertion if alien thoughts were beliefs. But we do not think this is necessarily the case, as in the book Fernández successfully applies his bypass model to other types of mental states, such as desires.
Keywords delusions  self-knowledge  thought insertion  beliefs
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