Do delusions have and give meaning?

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 21 (4):949-968 (2022)
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Delusions are often portrayed as paradigmatic instances of incomprehensibility and meaninglessness. Here we investigate the relationship between delusions and meaning from a philosophical perspective, integrating arguments and evidence from cognitive psychology and phenomenological psychopathology. We review some of the empirical and philosophical literature relevant to two claims about delusions and meaning: delusions are meaningful, despite being described as irrational and implausible beliefs; some delusions can also enhance the sense that one’s life is meaningful, supporting agency and creativity in some circumstances. Delusions are not incomprehensible representations of reality. Rather, they can help make sense of one’s unusual experiences and in some circumstances even support one’s endeavours, albeit temporarily and imperfectly. Acknowledging that delusions have meaning and can also give meaning to people’s lives has implications for our understanding of psychotic symptoms and for addressing the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.



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Author Profiles

Lisa Bortolotti
University of Birmingham
Rosa Ritunnano
University of Birmingham

References found in this work

General Psychopathology.Karl Jaspers - 1913 - Johns Hopkins University Press.
Abductive inference and delusional belief.Max Coltheart, Peter Menzies & John Sutton - 2010 - Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 15 (1):261-287.
Heidegger on Being Uncanny.Katherine Withy - 2015 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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