Friday, 23 November 2018

hinges, again

Today I've been rethinking what I recently wrote contra Bardina, Campbell, my earlier self, on delusions as hinge propositions. I think I need to own that I failed to do justice to the good intuition lying behind their nevertheless peculiar suggestion.

The suggestion was that we can shed light on delusions, in their defining peculiarity and intransigence, by construing them as alternative hinges. For like those hinges which constitute our sanity or 'reality contact', delusions truly are reasoned from and not about; they are the still points around which investigations are to turn. The thought here is that, despite the fact that delusions and hinges are chalk and cheese - hinges necessarily being paradigms of meaning and truth, delusions being paradigms of the opposite of these - they nevertheless share something of a functional role. It now seems to me that this comparison does real work: it explains or at least makes it clearer why a delusional person is so sure (lacking in doubt) in her delusion, why she can't be reasoned out of it. It offers a deeper characterisation of this intransigence than we had before.

To try to do justice to both the similarities and the differences, I begin by remarking on the fact that hinge propositions are never articulated outside of philosophy classes, whereas it is nearly always outside of philosophy classes that delusions are articulated. Hinge propositions are rather contrived verbal formulations of certainties which really have their life in our active habits - they are forced articulations of lived certainties.

In truth we don't so much pivot around hinge propositions - we instead pivot around the unreflective lived certainties of our worldly engagements (nb Wittgenstein's 'certain things are in deed not doubted' (OC 342)). One could equally say: we pivot around features of the world. For the point of the 'hinge' metaphor is that, at the point of the hinge, thought and world are not two different matters. Thought, here, is not a matter of representation of something other than it; it's not a matter of representation at all. Rather, thought here is what it is because of how the mind is directly conditioned, in-formed, by the world.

But next, note, the delusional person does, or at least can readily, articulate their delusions. They do not so much here have a lived sense-defining certainty - after all they have, in their delusion, lost contact with reality, whereas the person who is in touch with reality is so in virtue of being hinged to it in their praxis.

What I'm getting at is that the delusional person relates to their delusion thought somewhat as the sane person relates to their world.

How are we to make sense of that?

The literature contains two suggestions. The first is phenomenological, and finds (an albeit unhappy) expression in Spitzer's idea that the delusional certainty is helpfully modelled on the certainty of psychological first-person authority. The real point is: the delusional person has (necessarily, in this domain) lost reality testing. Where 'reality testing' means: enjoying thought of a form which instantiates an appearance/reality distinction - thought of which we (the observer) can meaningfully say 'it is imagination, or, it is world-directed'. (It's so hard to resist - even though we must - putting this in what I've been calling a 'cataphatic' mode - i.e. to resist offering an explanation of it, e.g. by wanting to understand delusion better by saying of what other psychological genus it's a species!)

The second is psychoanalytic, and is there in all the major psychoanalysts who've worked with psychotic patients. It is that delusions do work for the patient, binding fragmentation, providing stabilisation - and are in this sense motivated. This gets misarticulated in the cognitivist's view that true delusions are attempted 'explanations' of bizarre experiences - but we can see why one might be tempted to put things like that (that irresistible 'cataphatic' impulse again...) whilst also finding ways to do better justice to the underlying intuition.

The position we arrive at might be summarised like this: A delusion is akin to a hinge certainty in that it plays an analogous role in the 'economy' of an individual's thought. Both stabilise, both manifest an unchallengeable certainty.

But whereas the certainty of the hinge comes from our allowing the world to be sovereign in our thought, the certainty of the delusion comes from our attempting to usurp this role. The result is incoherence: the meaningful coherence of the mind depends on resisting the allure of psychotic omnipotence, and in trusting in - settling down into - the necessarily worldly foundations of any genuine thought.