The phenomenological role of affect in the Capgras delusion

  • Matthew Ratcliffe


This paper draws on studies of the Capgras delusion in order to illuminate the phenomenological role of affect in interpersonal recognition. People with this delusion maintain that familiars, such as spouses, have been replaced by impostors. It is generally agreed that the delusion involves an anomalous experience, arising due to loss of affect. However, quite what this experience consists of remains unclear. I argue that recent accounts of the Capgras delusion incorporate an impoverished conception of experience, which fails to accommodate the role played by ‘affective relatedness’ in constituting (a) a sense of who a particular person is and (b) a sense of others as people rather than impersonal objects. I draw on the phenomenological concept of horizon to offer an interpretation of the Capgras experience that shows how the content ‘this entity is not my spouse but an impostor’ can be part of the experience, rather than something that is inferred from a strange experience.


Affect Belief Capgras delusion Feeling of unfamiliarity Horizons Possibilities 



Thanks to Matthew Broome, Brady Heiner, Louis Sass and to my wife, Beth, for commenting on an earlier version of this paper.


  1. Bayne, Tim, and Elisabeth Pacherie. 2004. Bottom-up or top-down? Campbell’s rationalist account of monothematic delusions. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 11: 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2005. Delusions and the background of rationality. Mind & Language 20: 189–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Campbell, John. 2001. Rationality, meaning, and the analysis of delusion. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology 8: 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cole, Jonathan. 1998. About face. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cutting, John. 1991. Delusional misidentification and the role of the right hemisphere in the appreciation of identity. British Journal of Psychiatry 159(Supp. 14): 70–75.Google Scholar
  6. Davies, Martin, Max Coltheart, Robyn Langdon, and Nora Breen. 2001. Monothematic delusions: Towards a two-factor account. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 8: 133–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ellis, Hadyn D., and Andrew W. Young. 1990. Accounting for delusional misidentifications. British Journal of Psychiatry 157: 239–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ellis, Hadyn D., and Michael B. Lewis. 2001. Capgras delusion: A window on face recognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5: 149–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ellis, Hadyn D., Andrew W. Young, Angela H. Quayle, and Karel W. de Pauw. 1997. Reduced autonomic responses to faces in Capgras Delusion. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B264: 1085–1092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fine, Cordelia, Jillian Craigie, and Ian Gold. 2005. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: The impasse in cognitive accounts of the Capgras delusion. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 12: 143–151.Google Scholar
  11. Gallagher, Shaun. 2001. The practice of mind: Theory, simulation, or interaction? Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (5–7): 83–107.Google Scholar
  12. Gallagher, Shaun. 2005. How the body shapes the mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gallagher, Shaun. 2007. Logical and phenomenological arguments against simulation theory. In Folk psychology re-assessed, ed. Daneil Hutto and Matthew Ratcliffe. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Gibson, James J. 1979. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  15. Heal, Jane. 1995. Replication and functionalism. In Folk psychology, ed. Martin Davies and Tony Stone, 45–59. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Hobson, Peter. 2002. The cradle of thought. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  17. Hohwy, Jakob, and Raben Rosenberg. 2005. Unusual experiences, reality testing and delusions of Alien control. Mind & language 20: 141–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Husserl, Edmund. 1989. Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy: Second Book (trans: Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  19. Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses concerning passive and active synthesis: lectures on transcendental logic (trans: Anthony J. Steinbock). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  20. James, William. 1884. What is an emotion? Mind 9: 188–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. James, William. 1890. The principles of psychology, vol. 2. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  22. Maher, Brendan. 1999. Anomalous experience in everyday life: Its significance for psychopathology. Monist 82: 547–570.Google Scholar
  23. Malloy, Paul, C. Cimino, and Richard Westlake. 1992. Differential diagnosis of primary and secondary Capgras delusions. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, and Behavioral Neurology 5: 83–96.Google Scholar
  24. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of perception (trans: Colin Smith). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964a. Sense and non-sense (trans: Hubert L. Dreyfus and Patricia A. Dreyfus). Evanston: Northwestern.Google Scholar
  26. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964b. Signs (trans: Richard C. McCleary). Evanston: Northwestern.Google Scholar
  27. Noë, Alva. 2004. Action in perception. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ramachandran, Vilyanur S., and Sandra Blakeslee. 1998. Phantoms in the brain. London: Fourth Estate.Google Scholar
  29. Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2004. Interpreting delusions. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3: 25–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2005. The feeling of being. Journal of Consciousness Studies 12 (8–10): 45–63.Google Scholar
  31. Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2007. Rethinking commonsense psychology: A critique of folk psychology, theory of mind and simulation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  32. Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2008. Feelings of being: Phenomenology, psychiatry and the sense of reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Ratcliffe, Matthew. in press. Touch and situatedness. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 16.Google Scholar
  34. Sartre, Jean Paul. 1969. Being and nothingness (trans: Hazel Barnes). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Sass, Louis. 2004. Affectivity in schizophrenia: A phenomenological view. In Hidden resources: Classical perspectives on subjectivity, ed. Dan Zahavi, 127–147. Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  36. Schutz, Alfred. 1967. The phenomenology of the social world (trans: George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert). Evanston: Northwestern.Google Scholar
  37. Sechehaye, Marguerite. 1970. Autobiography of a schizophrenic girl. New York: Signet.Google Scholar
  38. Stanghellini, Giovanni. 2004. Disembodied spirits and deanimated bodies: The psychopathology of common sense. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Stone, Tony, and Andrew W. Young. 1997. Delusions and brain injury: The philosophy and psychology of belief. Mind & Language 12: 327–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Young, Andrew W. 2000. Wondrous strange: The neuropsychology of abnormal beliefs. In Pathologies of belief, ed. Max Coltheart and Martin Davies, 47–73. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  41. Young, Andrew W., and Karel W. de Pauw. 2002. One stage is not enough. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 9: 55–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDurham University50 Old ElvetUK

Personalised recommendations