3. On the idea of recovering sense from apparent nonsense in schizophrenic discourse

(The original material prepared for seminar 2 proved too extensive. In the end seminar 2 considered just Bleuler's notion of schizophrenic autism. I was principally concerned to offer an understanding of why we do well to maintain the unity of Bleuler's concept of autism in schizophrenia - i.e. as a dynamically motivated fantasy-involving state of inward retreat from the world - and to defend the dynamic and fantasy-involving components of this from the criticisms of phenomenologically oriented psychiatrists. Seminar 3 will now consider the intelligibility of the project of recovering sense from what is apparent nonsense in schizophrenic discourse. We find at least four versions of this in the literature which have a similar form: von Domarus; John Campbell; Ludwig Binswanger; and Louis Sass. With the help of Tim Thornton, Rupert Read, James Conant and Medard Boss I subject these proposals to philosophical scrutiny in seminar 3.)

Paradigm mental illnesses involve psychosis, the defining mark of which is delusion. Delusion - the loss of contact with reality - affects not only belief but any mental state or act (hence delusional thinking, delusional mood, delusional perception, delusional belief, etc.); 'delusionality' may be a better term. In this and the next seminar I consider various psychopathologists' attempts to understand delusion, and suggest that our best understanding of delusion is reached by an appreciation of how such attempts to understand it fail. This seminar considers some philosophical efforts, whilst the next considers approaches offered by cognitive psychology.

Eugen Bleuler
We sometimes say of someone who is delusional that she is 'living in her own world', or has retreated from consensual reality to 'a reality of her own'. The concept of 'autism' was originally coined to signify just such a retreat into a private world of meaning (Bleuler; Gipps & de Haan). But whilst the psychotic subject truly has 'lost contact with reality', is there really a sense in which she can be said to 'live in her own world'? Or is an estrangement from reality at the same time a loss of worldhood - of any worldhood? Or, if worldhood essentially involves intelligibility - at least to someone, if not to us - then is it possible that the delusional subject has thoughts which make sense to her whilst yet residing beyond us? That they have their own logic which is other than our ordinary shared logic (von Domarus)?

Silvano Arieti
This idea, which has been dubbed the 'lost tribe romantic' conception of delusion (Hamilton), is tempting - since it attempts to do some justice to our intuition that the psychotic subject is, whilst detached from reality, yet a thinking and experiencing subject with a meaningful inner life, and not merely a broken brain. It raises the hope that human connection might be restored with the psychotic subject if only we - the non-psychotic subject - can step aside from such habitual forms of thought as constitute our putatively parochial sanity and entertain a different way of thinking, with its own idiosyncratic logic, to thereby better appreciate this different reality (von Domarus; Arieti). Or perhaps we should make adjustments to our, or at least acknowledge the alterations in their, 'being-in-the-world', 'background', 'framework propositions' or 'bedrock beliefs' (Binswanger; Campbell; Rhodes & Gipps). ... Or perhaps we may understand the world-retreated schizophrenic subject by analogy with the philosophical solipsist (Sass).

Cora Diamond
Yet again, perhaps such notions are mere romantic fantasies, and fall foul of the arguments against the intelligibility of 'private languages' and of solipsism (Wittgenstein; Thornton; Read). Perhaps this theorist unintelligibly wants to help herself to the idea of a 'beyond' to reason which is both imaginable and unimaginable at the same time (Conant). Worse still, perhaps this ambition is itself yet another deflection (Cavell; Diamond) from the painful reality of unreason; a wishful fantasy that the psychotic subject is not so broken and lost, in their delusion, as they seem; a way of keeping at bay our acknowledgement of their terrifying derangement; a way of turning their living hell into a philosophical puzzle; and, most of all, a way of defending against our terrifying sense of the vulnerable contingency of our sanity.


Silvano Arieti (1974). Interpretation of Schizophrenia. 2nd edition. Basic Books. ch. 16 section II.

Ludwig Binswanger (1958). The existential analysis school of thought. In R. May, E. Angel & H. Ellenberger (Eds.) Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. Basic Books. 191–213.

Eugen Bleuler (1911/1950). Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias. International Universities Press.

Stanley Cavell (1979). The Claim of Reason. Oxford University Press.

John Campbell (2001). Rationality, meaning, and the analysis of delusionPhilosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8, 89-100.

James Conant (1991). The search for logically alien thought. Philosophical Topics, 20, 115-180.

Cora Diamond (2008). The difficulty of reality and the difficulty of philosophy. In C. Wolfe & I. Hacking (Eds.) Philosophy and Animal Life. Columbia University Press.

Richard Gipps & Sanneke de Haan (2019). Schizophrenic autismThe Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology. Oxford University Press

Andy Hamilton (2006). Against the Belief Model of Delusion. In Reconciling Schizophrenia. Chung, M., Fulford, W. & Graham, G. (Eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 217-234.

John Rhodes & Richard Gipps (2008). Delusions, certainty, and the backgroundPhilosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 15, 295-310.

Rupert Read (2007). Applying Wittgenstein. Continuum. Section 2.2. (See also Rupert Read (2003). Literature as philosophy of psychopathology. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 10, 115-124.)

Louis Sass (1994). The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind. Cornell University Press.

Tim Thornton (2008). Why the idea of framework propositions cannot contribute to an understanding of delusionsPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 7, 159­-175.

Tim Thornton (2012). Delusional Atmosphere, the Everyday Uncanny, and the Limits of Secondary Sense. Emotion Review, 4, 192-196.

Eilhard von Domarus (1944). The specific laws of logic in schizophrenia. In J S Kasanin (ed.), Language and Thought in Schizophrenia: Collected Papers. University of California Press. 104-114.