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Pragmatic and epistemic role of factually erroneous cognitions and thoughts

Final Report Summary - PERFECT (Pragmatic and epistemic role of factually erroneous cognitions and thoughts)

Human agents do not simply survive but navigate their physical and social world successfully despite adopting and maintaining irrational beliefs. Project PERFECT argues that some instances of irrationality may support the way in which imperfect agents pursue and attain their goals, including their epistemic goals. The project develops the notion of epistemic innocence which captures the thought that irrational beliefs can have benefits, pragmatically, psychologically, even epistemically. The main case studies were delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations. Some of these types of beliefs are common in the non-clinical population, whereas other types of beliefs are regarded of symptomatic of mental disorders.

For each case study, PERFECT identified the potential for a type of irrational belief to meet the conditions for epistemic innocence. A belief is epistemically innocent if it delivers an epistemic benefit that could not be attained otherwise. In the end, PERFECT reviewed the implications of the application of the notion of epistemic innocence for a more nuanced and psychologically informed process of belief evaluation in epistemology, for the exploration of the relationship between rationality and good functioning in cognitive science research, and for the management of symptoms of mental health disorders in clinical practice.

PERFECT also undermined mental health stigma on epistemological, not moral, grounds by defending the view that there is continuity between 'normal' and 'abnormal' cognition, and that beliefs that are regarded as pathological can have benefits as well as costs.