Do delusions have and give meaning?

Rosa Ritunnano, Lisa Bortolotti

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Delusions are often portrayed as paradigmatic instances of incomprehensibility and meaninglessness. Here we investigate the relationship between delusions and meaning from a philosophical perspective, integrating arguments and evidence from cognitive psychology and phenomenological psychopathology. We review some of the empirical and philosophical literature relevant to two claims about delusions and meaning: (1) delusions are meaningful, despite being described as irrational and implausible beliefs; (2) some delusions can also enhance the sense that one’s life is meaningful, supporting agency and creativity in some circumstances. Delusions are not incomprehensible representations of reality. Rather, they can help make sense of one’s unusual experiences and in some circumstances even support one’s endeavours, albeit temporarily and imperfectly. Acknowledging that delusions have meaning and can also give meaning to people’s lives has implications for our understanding of psychotic symptoms and for addressing the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MRC Grant awarded to Lisa Bortolotti and Priestley Scholarship awarded to Rosa Ritunnano.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Cognitive psychology
  • Creativity
  • Delusions
  • Meaning
  • Meaningfulness
  • Phenomenology
  • Sense of coherence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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