Sunday, 22 February 2009

holding our nerve

Several texts in the 'philosophy of psychopathology' arena invite us to make the following kind of choice:
  • Either we should acknowledge that what appears to be some perfectly natural description of certain psychopathological facts ought to force us to reconsider our prior philosophical belief that the domain which has been affected by the psychopathology had a purely transcendental unity.

  • Or we should stick to our philosophical guns and acknowledge that what appears to be some perfectly natural description of certain psychopathological facts is purely that - a misleading appearance - and that all we have really is a nonsense with no apt articulation.
To give just two examples, we find this kind of forced choice (and a plumping for the second option) in work on delusion and rationality (Davidson must be wrong about the constitutive principle of rationality because delusional beliefs seem to be both irrational and beliefs), or in work on disturbances of self-consciousness (passivity experiences show that what we might have thought was constitutively inalienable - our knowledge of our own minds - is only empirically so. Reflection on the alleged psychopathological facts forces us philosophers to admit of distinctions between the ownership and the agency of thoughts which would not otherwise have occurred to us).

My short objection to this forced choice is that it fails to consider adequately a third alternative:
  • That what we confront in psychopathological conditions (especially psychotic conditions) are phenomena that simultaneously and naturally invite, yet also thwart, the application of certain concepts. That what we are dealing with are necessarily exceptions to a rule, phenomena the psychotic character of which is precisely of a piece with the ways in which our language starts to fall apart in the phenomena's articulation. That the background preconditions for the sensible application of our concepts are what falls apart in psychosis. That what we must however learn to tolerate is a situation in which the most apt characterisation of the phenomenon is also and nevertheless one which aptly fails to make it intelligible - since, being psychotic, it is precisely not intelligible in the way in which non-psychotic phenomena are. And that the aptness of this characterisation is not one which can be demonstrated through the application of criteria but is sui generis - is, possibly, one which draws more on intellectual sensibilities that have their most direct expression in, say, poetics.