Introducing Lisa Bortolotti

I’m honored to be able to introduce Lisa Bortolotti, currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, as the first philosopher to discuss her work as a featured scholar here at Brains.

Lisa was educated at the University of Bologna and then earned degrees at KCL and Oxford before completing her PhD in philosophy at the Australian National University, under the supervision of Martin Davies. Her dissertation, which developed into her 2009 book Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs, challenged Donald Davidson’s influential arguments that the ascription of beliefs to a person requires the assumption that he or she is mostly rational. Against this position, Lisa has argued for a doxastic conception of delusions, according to which many clinical delusions lie on a continuum with everyday instances of irrational belief even though the subjects of those delusions may fail to meet ordinary standards of rationality. This view is further developed and defended in her recent paper “In Defence of Modest Doxasticism About Delusions”, which responds to numerous commentaries in an issue of the journal Neuroethics that was focused on her book.

More recently, Lisa’s research has concerned the relationships between rationality, sanity, autonomy and self-knowledge in the context of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnosis. An example of the fruitfulness of this research, and of the methodology that informs her work more generally, is Lisa’s 2011 paper “Does Reflection Lead to Wise Choices?”, which draws on psychological research to challenge the idea that reflective thinking improves our decision-making. Other work from that project (see here, here and here) focused on the question whether there is a “right not to know” undesirable facts about oneself, such as information about genetic or psychiatric disorders, and whether the choice to forgo such knowledge undermines a person’s capacity for autonomous decision-making.

Finally, Lisa’s next AHRC-funded project, which will begin in September, will revisit the subject of psychiatric delusions, but now from the perspective of epistemology, questioning whether there are any epistemic benefits to be gained from “imperfect cognitions” such as delusional beliefs and distorted memories. The main objectives of this project are to identify the conditions under which imperfect cognitions might be epistemically innocent, and whether they can also be knowledge-conducive despite their epistemic shortcomings. Lisa will be blogging about these and other topics during the coming weeks of her time at Brains, so I’m sure we’ll learn more soon about the ideas that this project will explore.

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