Delusions and Philosophy

Several years ago my life came apart. All my life seemed to have been building to that time, with ongoing struggles over drugs and alcohol, depression and paranoia. Somehow, though, the struggles were seen as a sort of moral failure rather than the effects of a maladaptive brain. In that moral light, the question was how I could be so weak or so cruel rather than seeing the important questions as questions of causality and health.

It is still difficult for me to look on those recurring disturbed episodes in my life as anything less than a moral failure on my part. We have been trained, after all, to categorize actions in terms of right and wrong, guilt or innocence, freedom or coercion. That moral language demands moral activity: I must assert my will and make the right choice.

The more I learn about behavior and cognition, the less my moral language appears accurate or useful. Moral language is a relic of a discredited dualistic belief system… even if that language is still alive today. Human psychology is too enmeshed in the world to speak simply of freedom. We make choices, certainly, but the many causes of any given choice are impossible to tease out in any intellectually satisfying way.

So that time of mental unravelling in my life, was it a failure on my part or the culmination of a series of biological and sociological blunders? Both, I suppose. My mental hygiene was not very sound, as is the case for so many of us who are found on the schizophrenic spectrum. I often enough sought psychological help only to reject the help offered when my paranoia drove me to believe that my doctor, for instance, was a criminal in hiding, living under a false identity. Am I to blame for how I acted when overwhelmed by such delusions? The question is unhelpful. What we really should be asking is how to prevent the episodes of paranoia, how to recognize when they are in the process of developing and how to react once a paranoid episode has taken off.

Philosophical practice cannot address a medical crisis such as a delusion in full bloom. (Anyone who says otherwise is, in my mind, an irresponsible quack.) Philosophy, if it is anything, is an attempt to make meaning or find value in the world. Such concerns are important, but hardly seem relevant to the immediate need of the woman grappling with schizoaffective disorder. Real healing grounded in our material reality is what is needed most.

What philosophical practice offers is a process of making room in my life for the delusions of the past. I can look upon paranoia as an opportunity, a way of making my soul with my own hands. But what comes first is health, not valuing or soul-making. What that really tells me is that love is the virtue of a new order, because love does not seek to force any of us to fit into an artificial moral mold. We must embrace the world as we find it, even ourselves, or we fail to live in reality.