Colloquium: September 25

Speaker: Lauren Olin, University of Missouri – St. Louis

Date & Time: September 25th at 2:30 pm via Zoom

Title: Mistaking Identities


While violence in the context of mental illness is rare, individuals with delusions of misidentification (DMSs) are increasingly regarded as a sub-population of psychiatric patients that pose significant dangers towards those they know intimately. DMSs arise in a variety of psychiatric and neurologic illnesses, but are most common in Schizophrenia and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The most familiar is Capgras Syndrome, in which someone or something of close personal significance is misidentified as an imposter or fake. The category is increasingly inclusive, congealing thematically around the idea that the self or another familiar person, place, object, or creature has been duplicated or transformed.
This talk first presents a range of actual cases in which individuals with DMSs have harmed close others, and argues that they problematize the widely held view that the mere presence of delusional beliefs is both demonstrative of criminal insanity, and responsibility mitigating. It then argues that considering cases of violence in the context of DMSs make salient three dimensions of moral and epistemic responsibility for delusional beliefs and the actions they motivate: (1) the contents of the delusional misidentifications, (2) the extent to which individuals with DMSs can be said to have control over the contents of their delusional beliefs and other attitudes, and (3) the coherence of actions motivated by the delusional misidentifications. I’ll conclude with the suggestion that good theories about responsibility for violence in the context of DMSs will necessarily implicate good theories about the genesis and maintenance of delusional misidentifications more generally.