The epistemic innocence of psychedelic states

Consciousness and Cognition 39:28-37 (2016)
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Abstract

One recent development in epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, is the notion of ‘epistemic innocence’ introduced by Bortolotti and colleagues. This concept expresses the idea that certain suboptimal cognitive processes may nonetheless have epistemic (knowledge-related) benefits. The idea that delusion or confabulation may have psychological benefits is familiar enough. What is novel and interesting is the idea that such conditions may also yield significant and otherwise unavailable epistemic benefits. I apply the notion of epistemic innocence to research on the transformative potential of psychedelic drugs. The popular epithet ‘hallucinogen’ exemplifies a view of these substances as fundamentally epistemically detrimental. I argue that the picture is more complicated and that some psychedelic states can be epistemically innocent. This conclusion is highly relevant to policy debates about psychedelic therapy. Moreover, analysing the case of psychedelics can shed further light on the concept of epistemic innocence itself.

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Chris Letheby
University of Western Australia