05. Lightning talk by Dr. Carrie Figdor

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05. Lightning talk by Dr. Carrie Figdor

Date Published: 29 June 2023

This video is part of the series of recordings of the workshop Extreme Beliefs and Responsibility, held at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on 29-30 June and organised by the Extreme Beliefs project. In this video you find a lightning talk by Dr. Carrie Figdor on ‘Extreme believers are doxastic addicts, and should be treated as such’

Dr. Carrie Figdor is a philosopher of psychology and neuroscience who works in theoretical comparative psychology as well as social epistemology. Her psychological research focuses on cognitive character individuation, phylogenetic relationships between cognitive abilities, and the meaning of psychological concepts. She is author of numerous articles and Pieces of Mind: The proper domain of psychological predicates (OUP 2018). Her social epistemology research focuses on philosophy of journalism, particularly science journalism. Her contribution to this workshop is based in the psychology and neuroscience of addiction. https://psychology.uiowa.edu/people/c…

In this talk I will defend the claim that extreme believers are genuine addicts – doxastic addicts – and that by acknowledging doxastic addiction as a genuine addiction the question of their responsibility becomes one with the ways we debate the autonomy and responsibility of substance addicts. This approach assimilates psychological, behavioral, and social problems associated with extreme belief into the larger conversation about addictions and their treatment. The case for identifying, and not merely analogizing, some extreme believers as addicts is surprisingly strong. Complexity in defining even drug addiction points to a view in which there is no single etiology of genuine addiction. What comes closest to being a necessary condition is a psychological criterion according to which frequent use crosses over into addiction when using ceases to be under the control of the user. Typically this loss of control is operationalized in terms of the drug addict’s loss of an ability to choose to use a drug or to refrain from using in the light of long-term outcomes. In other terms, the 1st-order behavior – drug-using – is under the control of 2nd-order beliefs that are not properly responsive to relevant and available evidence about the consequences. In doxastic addiction, the 1st-order target is not a drug, but a belief, and the addict is no longer in control of her believing that belief. In particular, she cannot stop holding the 1st order belief because she cannot stop trusting the source of her belief despite evidence that should undermine this trust. The unresponsiveness in this case involves an inability to properly factor in relevant and available evidence that a trusted source of testimony is unreliable. Understanding extreme belief as a type of addiction is important both philosophically and practically (clinically). First, it forces us to rethink the nature of epistemic vice, which does not distinguish the category of addicted from the category of vicious. The vicious are still autonomous and responsible, while the addicted may or may not be: on the moral model, addiction is a failure of individual willpower and addicts are morally responsible, while on the medical or brain-disease model, they suffer from compulsions that almost no amount of willpower can overcome and so are not responsible. (There are also intermediate views, such as Levy’s (2014), in which they have partial, diminished responsibility.) Second, it forces us to think harder about how we should best treat doxastic addiction – for example, recommendations to go cold turkey (as in Nguyen’s (2020) “Cartesian reboot” for those in echo chambers) are unlikely to be helpful. Instead, effective interventions in doxastic addictions will pay attention to the social contexts of testimony along with individual differences in vulnerability to trust manipulation.