Thursday, 30 July 2015

Women in Philosophy: A Mentoring and Networking Workshop (1)

Jenny Saul
On 22nd and 23rd June, I, together with Helen Bradley and Suki Finn, organised a Mentoring and Networking Workshop for graduate and early career women in philosophy, which took place at the University of York.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together women in philosophy from a various areas of philosophy in order to offer support and encouragement, and to develop a community of women in philosophy. The workshop had eight graduate or early career mentees, and seven senior women in philosophy who acted as mentors.

Mary Edwards
Jennifer Saul (Sheffield) opened the workshop with her talk 'Women in Philosophy: How the Profession is Improving'. Jennifer talked about the low number of women in philosophy, and the factors which might be responsible. She also talked about how things have improved for women in the profession, and what can be done to further improve them.

Mary Edwards (Cork) was the first mentee to present her paper, 'Can We Resurrect the Author without Calling upon Intention?'. Mary offered a new argument for the relevance of the author of a work which circumnavigated the dispute about intentions in the literature. Her claim was that the author's expressed attitude toward the world she describes contributes to the reader's experience of that world.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Feeling and Thinking

This post is by Alex Tillas and James Trafford. Alex is a a Research Fellow at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany. He holds a PhD from University of Bristol and is mainly working on philosophy of psychology and cognitive science, broadly construed. James is a Senior Lecturer in Contextual and Critical Studies at the University of the Creative Arts in London. He completed a PhD in philosophy of mind at the University of East London, and his primary research interests lie in reasoning, rationality, and logical inferentialism.  This post is based on their co-authored papers 'Intuition and Reason: Re-assessing Dual-Process Theories with Representational Sub-Activation', forthcoming in Teorema, and 'The Fear Factor: Reconsidering the Roles of Emotion in Reasoning', currently under review.

Alex Tillas

Emotionally responding to environmental cues is crucial for adaptive human behaviour. For instance, in the presence of a predator, fear can be a good advisor since it can sharpen our perceptual abilities and reasoning in finding the best escape route. Usually we have the ability to modulate our emotional responses in light of changes in circumstances, while failure to do so is often associated with various psychopathological conditions such as anxiety disorders, and so forth.

Nonetheless, despite their significant contribution to our cognitive landscape, the role of emotions in reasoning is often overlooked, and is often understood only negatively. One reason for this may be due to an understanding of reasoning in terms of two separate, and often antagonistic reasoning systems. One system (Type-1) is fast, automatic, emotional and/or subconscious, whereas the other (Type-2) is rule-based, analytical, deliberative and/or explicit (e.g. Stanovich, 1999).

Recent evidence from work in fields as diverse as psychology, philosophy and neuroscience has challenged ‘dual-process’ theories. In line with this evidence, we favour a unitary reasoning system (forthcoming), showing that reasoning is the outcome of a compound process consisting in cognitive and affective aspects and crucially that there is a clear modulatory relationship between the two.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Pills, Poetry & Prose

Pills, Poetry and Prose
by Rebecca Chamaa
Today's post is by Rebecca Chamaa, who blogs at 'A journey with you'.

I’m not an expert on schizophrenia based on schooling. I do, however, consider myself an expert based on the experience of schizophrenia, because I have lived with the illness for nearly a quarter of a century.

I wrote a book: Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia that is a short book (approximately seventy pages) and contains essays and poetry about my life with a severe mental illness. I have fairly good recall of the times in my life when I have been psychotic and I try to take the reader on that journey with me.

In one essay I talk about the delusion I had of being a healer and during this delusion I baked hundreds of cakes, because I falsely believed that the food I made would heal all of the people who ate it. This essay is a story of a harmless delusion that I had and my neighbor’s response to it. Often times my episodes start out as a somewhat pleasant experience, but they always turn ugly and dangerous eventually.

In another essay in the book, I give my psychosis its own personality by naming it June. I do this to make it clear to the reader how different I am when I am experiencing psychosis as opposed to when I am stable. In this essay June is definitely the enemy even causing me to nearly lose my life to two suicide attempts in the same evening.

The book contains a few poems about my childhood, and about my first marriage. It also contains a few poems about my first stay in a psychiatric hospital and the stigma surrounding a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

I like to think of the book as both tragic and triumphant. I was struck with this illness when life was just starting to unfold for me: I had graduated from college; I was successful in my career as a social worker; I had just started publishing poetry in national journals. My life was good. It would take a number of years, a number of treatments, a number of psychiatrists, and a number of suicide attempts, but my life is meaningful and rewarding now, and I have reclaimed some of what I originally lost. I am thankful to all the people on my journey that helped get me to this point. I am thankful to be alive.

Here is one poem from the book:

A Mass Grave

Where do the voices go

when I die?

Do they go to torture

some other victim of madness?

Does the man on the street


hear the same voices I do?

Is it all the same spirit,

these disembodied voices

controlling human beings?

I hope that when I die,

they die with me

so there will be less

voices heard

in the minds

of others.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation Workshop (2)

This is a report on the second day of the Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation Workshop held at the Abraham Kuyper Centre for Science and Religion at the VU University in Amsterdam in June 2015 (for a report of the first day, please go here).

Workshop poster
The first talk was by Christoph Michel (University of Stuttgart) on the transition from deliberation to evaluation. Michel is interested in developing a theory of self-ascription of attitudes. Knowing one's own attitudes does not imply a full or deep understanding of one's own behaviour and does not come with powerful predictive capacities. Self-knowledge can be gained by self-interpretation (without privilege) and deliberation (with privilege). Some also think that we can gain self-knowledge by introspection.

A position on how to achieve self-knowledge depends on what we take attitudes to be: if they are conscious/neuronal states, then they can be scanned; if they are functional/dispositional states, then they can only be known by interpretation in virtue of their systematic relations with other states and behaviour; if they are resolutions, then they can be known by deliberation.

Carruthers argues that self-ascription of attitudes comes via self-interpretation: there is no introspection or privileged access. But this view would be supported by parallel success and accuracy rates between self- and other-attributions (and this is not clearly the case). Also, this model does not explain adaptive metacognitive control of judgement and decision, and ignores the possibility of deliberation as a source of self-knowledge. Moran focuses on authorship instead, and sees it as a relationship between the person as rationally responsible deliberator and her own attitudes. Epistemic access to mental items is not central, but commitment is. But attitudes are not always rational resolutions and do not generally involve an act of commitment.

Michel proposed a new account aiming to avoid the objections that can be raised to Carruthers and Moran. His account is based on transparency. Transparency has been criticised for applying only to new beliefs. But for Michel transparency is a widely applicable cognitive strategy that is beneficial to agents. This involves evaluation, meta-representation, and attitude representation. Evaluation can be explained in terms of the capacity we have to navigate complex environments and it is the process by which we attribute value to intentional objects. 

Evaluation is not an action, is context-sensitive, and is not subject to rationality constraints. Meta-representation is full self-understanding, and implies the recognition that we are epistemic agents distinct from the world who can get things wrong. Via a general attitude theory ("if I believe that p, then I hold p as true"), we get to attitude representation and knowledge that we believe (by transparency). Attitude representation shapes attitudes by making them accessible to rational regulation.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Schizophrenia and the Place of Egodystonic States in the Aetiology of Thought Insertion

Pablo López-Silva
This post is by Pablo López-Silva, a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Manchester. Pablo works on philosophical problems raised by schizophrenia, and is supervised by Joel Smith and Tim Bayne. Here Pablo summarises his recent paper 'Schizophrenia and the Place of Egodystonic States in the Aetiology of Thought Insertion', published in Review of Philosophy and Psychology. 

Paradigmatic cases of thought insertion involve the delusional belief with the content [someone/something is placing a thought with the content […] into my mind/head] (Mellor 1970; Mullins and Spence 2003). Despite the diagnostic relevance of this phenomenon, the debates about its aetiology are far from resolved. In this context, two projects can be distinguished. On the one hand, the motivational project characterizes thought insertion as resulting from the mind’s attempt to deal with highly stressing psychological conflicts. On the other hand, the deficit project defines delusions as resulting from different impairments in the process of formation of beliefs.

Current dominant deficit approaches to the aetiology of thought insertion have mostly focused on the exploration of neuropsychological impairment that might lead to the production of inserted thought (see Coltheart, Langdon, and McKay 2011). However, this seems to have led deficit approaches to overlook the role that impairment in affectivity might have in the aetiological process of this delusion. There is plenty of empirical evidence suggesting that impaired affectivity is not only a result of delusional episodes (post-delusional affective problems) but also, that is one of the conditions that might explain the very formation of delusional beliefs under certain circumstances (pre-delusional affective problems). So to speak, impaired affectivity is ‘already there’ when delusional beliefs are adopted (Marwaha et al. 2013).

Affectivity in a psychotic context has been shown to be impaired in a number of different dimensions, such as mood instability, enhanced negative reactivity, emotion regulation strategies, and baseline affective negativity (Henry et al. 2008; Marwaha at al. 2013; Kramer et al. 2014; Strauss et al. 2013). All of these disturbed dimensions might play a role in triggering and constraining the formation of abnormal thoughts under pathological conditions (see O’Driscoll, Laing & Mason, 2014). Arguably, a complete picture of thought insertion should be able to integrate this evidence into its aetiological picture.

In my latest paper, I invite the reader to consider the empirical and conceptual reasons to think of impaired affectivity as a crucial doxastic element in the process of formation of delusions of thought insertion. After addressing some of the problems of a motivational account that tries to integrate the role of affectivity into the the aetiological picture of the phenomenon, I offer an alternative view that claims that affective impairments play a crucial role in constraining or triggering the formation of inserted thoughts.

In the final section of this paper, I explore a theoretical integration between my insights and the current two-factor view of thought insertion. I suggest that impaired affectivity might act as a factor-1 experiential input and, arguably, as favouring the adoption of a certain explanatory hypothesis as more plausible than its alternatives for the adaptive benefit it serves (factor-2), namely, as a way of dealing with first-order abnormal thoughts.