Embodied and disembodied rationality: What morbid rationalism and hyper-reflexivity tell us about human intelligence and intentionality

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Psychopathology and Philosophy of Mind: What Mental Disorders Can Tell Us About Our Minds


Despite the fact that rationality is unanimously considered a peculiar trait of the human animal’s ontology, there has never been consensus on the meaning of this term. In cognitive science, it is possible to distinguish between at least two conceptions of rationality: one, which led to the development of the computational accounts of the human mind, is intended as the species-specific ability to solve problems and to understand the causal relationship between different events through language-based skills such as deduction, logical and syllogistic reasoning, mind reading, and so on; the other, which is rooted in pragmatic and phenomenological traditions and reflected in enactivist approaches to cognition, can be summarized with the expression “embodied rationality”. In the embodied perspective, rationality is not tied to our capacity to give a linguistic explanation to our experience, nor to the possibility of taking a step back from the latter in order to observe it from a third-person perspective; rather, embodied rationality is a form of ecological intelligence that allow us to adjust and optimize our cognitive and bodily responses to the environmental inputs without resorting to high-order processes such as thematization, reflection, inference, etc. In this chapter, we will show that the difference between the two notions of rationality is epitomized by the case of schizophrenia, which has been described in phenomenological psychiatry as marked by the patient’s exacerbated tendency towards the application of logical, almost algorithmic rules to provide meaning to his life events. This attitude, which has been named “morbid rationalism”, “simultaneous reflection” and, more recently, “hyper-reflexivity”, is associated with a total lack of embodied rationality, as reflected by the failure to grasp implicit aspects of social interaction such as the ones underlying common sense and intentionality. One finds evidence in the literature which demonstrates that schizophrenia is characterized by a rationality that is far from being embodied. This involves a disruption of body-schematic automatic processes, which will be discussed in the final part of the chapter.

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