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Posted by alexandra_k on December 21, 2004, at 18:04:44

Experiential Content and the Capgras Delusion

The content of the Capgras delusion is much disputed. Campbell (2002 p. 90) attempts to radically translate the content of this delusion, and he ends up concluding that one cannot attribute a content to the delusional subject’s utterances. His argument for this comes from the work of Donald Davidson on radical interpretation, and W.V.O. Quine on radical translation. Campbell maintains that in order to attribute a content to the delusional subject’s utterances we must presuppose that the subject is rational. He maintains that the best interpretation of the Capgras delusion is ‘that [currently perceived] woman is not that [remembered] woman’ (Campbell, 2002 p. 90). He then considers:

>How would you go about verifying such a judgment? You would have to check that the woman you currently perceive is indeed the one of whom you have all those memories. The canonical way to do this would be to find out whether you have shared memories of the events in which you both took part. And the canonical way to do that would be to discuss those past events… Since the patient does not use this way of checking who it is that is before him, he seems to have lost his grasp of the meaning of the word (Campbell, 2002 pp. 90-91).

Campbell seems to be thinking that meaning, or content is determined by its functional role. As the delusional subject does not behave in a manner that Campbell expects given his interpretation of the delusional belief, he maintains that here there is no content that we can attribute that is both based on standard meanings of the terms, and that makes the subject out to be rational. We may wonder whether functional definitions of content are too excessively holistic so that one change in belief would alter too much of the rest of the subject’s belief network, but Campbell is led to conclude that delusional utterances do not express contentful states.

I do not wish to be detained by this line of criticism too much here. At present I shall just note Bayne and Pacharie’s points that the delusional subject can use the words with which they express their delusional utterance appropriately in other contexts, and they also seem to be making a genuine attempt to communicate beliefs (2004, p. 9). What is relevant about Campbell’s line, however, is the notion that the content of delusional utterances may be interpreted or translated. Often utterances can be ambiguous and Campbell alerts us to the possibility that there may be an ambiguity with respect to what the delusional subject is saying.

The content of the experience of subjects with the Capgras delusion might be a general feeling that something is different, as Maher maintains and as Davies et al. firstly consider, though in this case we would seem to need something of a story as to why the delusion is focused solely on the replacement of certain individuals. The way in which we spell out the content of the delusional utterance and the way in which we spell out the content of the anomalous experience affects how big the step is between the content of the experience and the content of the belief. If the content of the experience is a vague or general experience of dissonance then it would indeed seem that a second factor would be required to determine that the subject arrives at a delusional belief.




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