Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 105–129 | Cite as

On incomprehensibility in schizophrenia



This article examines the supposedly incomprehensibility of schizophrenic delusions. According to the contemporary classificatory systems (DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10), some delusions typically found in schizophrenia are considered bizarre and incomprehensible. The aim of this article is to discuss the notion of understanding that deems these delusions incomprehensible and to see if it is possible to comprehend these delusions if we apply another notion of understanding. First, I discuss the contemporary schizophrenia definitions and their inherent problems, and I argue that the notion of incomprehensibility in these definitions rests heavily on Jaspers’ notions of understanding and empathy. Secondly, I discuss two Wittgensteinian attempts to comprehend bizarre delusions: (a) Campbell’s proposal to conceive delusions as framework propositions and (b) Sass’s suggestion to interpret delusions in the light of solipsism. Finally, I discuss the phenomenological conception of schizophrenia, which conceives delusion formation as resulting from alterations of the structure of experiencing and from underlying self-disorders. I argue that although a psychological understanding that seeks to grasp meaning in terms of motivations, desires, and other more straightforward psychological connections between mental states is impossible in schizophrenia, we can in fact have a philosophical understanding of the schizophrenic world and of the emergence of delusions typically found in schizophrenia.


Schizophrenia Delusions Self-disorders Phenomenology Understanding 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Danish National Research Foundation, Centre for Subjectivity ResearchUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Psychiatric Center HvidovreUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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