Indoctrination, delusion and the possibility of epistemic innocence

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    In this article, I illuminate ongoing debates about the normative status of indoctrination via close examination of recent work in the philosophy of psychiatry and, more particularly, delusion. Here it has been argued, contrary to the established view that delusional states of mind are epistemically problematic, that delusions can (at least under certain circumstances) exhibit a quality called ‘epistemic innocence’. That is, they may ‘[deliver] a significant epistemic benefit, that could not be obtained otherwise’. This might lead us to wonder whether indoctrinated beliefs – which appear to share key features with delusional beliefs – might also be capable of such epistemic innocence and, if so, what the educational consequences of such a conclusion would be. By drawing meaningful distinctions between delusion and normal cognition, as well as expanding our notions of what is conducive to epistemic achievement, philosophers of psychiatry and psychopathology provide us with novel, empirically informed theoretical resources which are particularly well placed to facilitate better understanding of belief formation and malformation. As such, this work is of direct relevance to philosophers of education concerned with questions pertaining to the legitimate transmission of beliefs. I begin by briefly outlining my own outcome-based account of indoctrination before discussing some of the relevant similarities and differences between indoctrination and delusion. This is followed by a discussion of how the aforementioned shared features might motivate the conclusion that indoctrination is morally problematic. In the second half of the article, I shift my focus to the possible epistemic benefits of delusional beliefs, before going on to explain why none of the candidates for epistemically innocent forms of belief transmission can be properly described as indoctrination.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)40-61
    JournalTheory and Research in Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


    • belief
    • delusion
    • epistemic innocence
    • indoctrination
    • rationality


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