Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 205–224 | Cite as

A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion

  • Lisa BortolottiEmail author
  • Matthew Broome


Philosophers are interested in the phenomenon of thought insertion because it challenges the common assumption that one can ascribe to oneself the thoughts that one can access first-personally. In the standard philosophical analysis of thought insertion, the subject owns the ‘inserted’ thought but lacks a sense of agency towards it. In this paper we want to provide an alternative analysis of the condition, according to which subjects typically lack both ownership and authorship of the ‘inserted’ thoughts. We argue that by appealing to a failure of ownership and authorship we can describe more accurately the phenomenology of thought insertion, and distinguish it from that of non-delusional beliefs that have not been deliberated about, and of other delusions of passivity. We can also start developing a more psychologically realistic account of the relation between intentionality, rationality and self knowledge in normal and abnormal cognition.


Authorship of thoughts Self-knowledge First-person authority Thought insertion Rationality Ownership of thoughts Intentionality Self-ascription 



The authors are grateful for comments on previous versions of this paper to: the audience of the Philosophy of Psychiatry Work-in-Progress Workshop organised by Rachel Cooper at the University of Lancaster in January 2008; the audience of the Delusions and Self Knowledge Workshop organised by Finn Spicer at the University of Bristol in February 2008; and the audience of the Cognitive Sciences seminar in Barcelona. In particular, the paper benefited from discussion with Hanna Pickard and Jordi Fernández who have been working independently on self knowledge and accounts of alien and inserted thoughts. The authors are also grateful to two anonymous referees for very constructive and helpful comments.


  1. Bayne, T., & Pacherie, E. (2005). In defence of the doxastic conception of delusion. Mind & Language, 20(2), 163–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berrios, G. E. (1991). Delusions as ‘wrong beliefs’: A conceptual history. British Journal of Psychiatry, 159(suppl. 14), 6–13.Google Scholar
  3. Berrios, G. E., & Luque, R. (1995). Cotard’s syndrome: Analysis of 100 cases. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 91, 185–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bortolotti, L. (2004). Can we interpret irrational behavior? Behavior and Philosophy, 32(2), 359–375.Google Scholar
  5. Broome, M. R., Jones, L. C., Valli, I., et al. (2007). Delusion formation and reasoning biases in those at clinical high risk for psychosis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 191(suppl. 51), 38–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Broome, M. R., Woolley, J. B., Tabraham, P., et al. (2005). What causes the onset of psychosis? Schizophrenia Research, 79, 23–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, J. (2002). The ownership of thoughts. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 9(1), 35–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dennett, D. (1992). The self as a center of narrative gravity. In F. Kessel, P. Cole & D. Johnson (Eds.), Self and consciousness: Multiple perspectives. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Gallagher, S. (2004). Neurocognitive models of schizophrenia: A neurophenomenological critique. Psychopathology, 37, 8–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gallagher, S. (2007). Sense of agency and higher-order cognition: Levels of explanation for schizophrenia. Cognitive Semiotics, 0, 32–48.Google Scholar
  11. Gerrans, P. (2001). Authorship and ownership of thoughts. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 8(2–3), 231–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Graham, G., & Stephens, G. (1994). Mind and mine. In G. Graham & G. Stephens (Eds.), Philosophical psychology (pp. 91–109). MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Jaspers, K. (1963). General psychopathology. Transl. J. Hoenig & M. Hamilton. Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lewis, S., & Guthrie, E. (2002). Master medicine: Psychiatry. Elsevier.Google Scholar
  15. Marchetti, C., & Della Sala, S. (1998). Disentangling the alien and anarchic hand. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 3, 191–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McAdams, D. P. (2001). The person: An integrated introduction to personality psychology (3rd ed.). Harcourt.Google Scholar
  17. Moran, R. (2001). Authority and estrangement: An essay on self-knowledge. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Moran, R. (2004). Precis of authority and estrangement. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXIX(2), 423–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mullins, S., & Spence, S. (2003). Re-examining thought insertion. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 293–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Oxford English Dictionary. (2007). Entry “ownership”. Oxford University Press. URL: Entry updated June 2007 and accessed December 2007.
  21. Scepkowski, L., & Cronin-Golomb, A. (2003). The alien hand: cases, categorizations, and anatomical correlates. Behavioural Cognitive Neurosci Rev, 2, 261–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sims, A. (2003). Symptoms in the mind. Saunders.Google Scholar
  23. Stephens, G. L., & Graham, G. (2000). When self-consciousness breaks: Alien voices and inserted thoughts. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Stephens, G. L., & Graham, G. (2006). The delusional stance. In M. Cheung Chung, W. Fulford & G. Graham (Eds.), Reconceiving schizophrenia (pp. 193–216). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Stone, T., & Young, A. W. (1997). Delusions and brain injury: The philosophy and psychology of belief. Mind & Language, 12, 327–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Velleman, J. (2005). The self as narrator. In J. Christman & J. Anderson (Eds.), Autonomy and the challenges to liberalism: New essays (pp. 56–76). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Wegner, D. (2002). Illusion of conscious will. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. Wegner, D., & Sparrow, B. (2004). Authorship processing. In M. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The cognitive neurosciences (pp. 1201–1209). MIT Press.Google Scholar
  29. Wilson, T. (2002). Strangers to ourselves. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Wilson, T., & Hodges, S. (1994). Effects of analyzing reasons on attitude change: the moderating role of attitude accessibility. Social Cognition, 11, 353–366.Google Scholar
  31. Yager, J., & Gitlin, M. J. (2005). Clinical manifestations of psychiatric disorders. In B. J. Sadock & V. A. Sadock (Eds.), Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry (8th ed., vol. I, pp. 964–1002). Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of BirminghamEdgbastonUK
  2. 2.Health Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical SchoolUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

Personalised recommendations