(Un)reasonable doubt as affective experience: obsessive–compulsive disorder, epistemic anxiety and the feeling of uncertainty
How does doubt come about? What are the mechanisms responsible for our inclinations to reassess propositions and collect further evidence to support or reject them? In this paper, I approach this question by focusing on what might be considered a distorting mirror of unreasonable doubt, namely the pathological doubt of patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). Individuals with OCD exhibit a form of persistent doubting, indecisiveness, and over-cautiousness at pathological levels (Rasmussen and Eisen in Psychiatr Clin 15(4):743–758, 1992; Reed in Obsessional experience and compulsive behaviour: a cognitive-structural approach, Academic Press, Cambridge, 1985; Tolin et al. in Cogn Ther Res 27(6):657–669, 2003). I argue that the failure in OCD is of an affective nature, involving both excessive epistemic anxiety and hyperactive feelings of uncertainty. I further argue that our adaptive disposition to inquire about the right matters—that is, about propositions which are both epistemically risky and imply harmful possibilities—might depend on these affective mechanisms.
KeywordsReasonable doubt Adaptive doubt Obsessive–compulsive disorder Epistemic anxiety Feeling of uncertainty
I am grateful to Fabrice Teroni, Jérôme Dokic, Anne Meylan, Charlie Kurth, Florian Cova, Arturs Logins, Steve Humbert-Droz, and Kris Goffin for their helpful feedback and suggestions, and to the audiences of the Thumos seminar in Geneva and of the Cognitive Irrationality seminar in Basel.
Funding was provided by Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (Grant No. 100012_176364) and by the LabEx IEC research Grant ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC and the IDEX PSL research Grant ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL.
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