Feelings of deadness and depersonalization

Matthew Ratcliffe

in Feelings of Being

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206469
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754470 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Feelings of deadness and depersonalization

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In the last chapter, I argued that the Capgras delusion, although usually taken to be the product of an anomalous experience with a specific content plus faulty reasoning, is better understood in terms of changed existential feeling. This chapter adopts the same approach towards the Cotard delusion, which is often referred to as the belief that one is dead, and then also to the closely related phenomenon of depersonalization. I begin by rejecting the view that the Cotard delusion is a propositional attitude and propose instead that utterances such as ‘I am dead’ and ‘I do not exist’ are expressions of existential changes. The existential orientation that patients inhabit renders them unable to see outside of their predicament and appreciate its contingency. This explains why the delusion is impervious to counter-evidence and therefore dispenses with the need to postulate an additional reasoning bias. I go on to address ‘depersonalization’ and suggest that this too should be understood in terms of existential feeling. Depersonalization is often regarded as similar in certain respects to the Cotard delusion but also importantly different, the former involving feeling but not believing. However, given that the Cotard delusion is not a matter of possessing a ‘false belief’, I suggest that the difference between the two is not so clear after all. In the process, I criticize the commonplace tendency to presuppose clear-cut distinctions between world-experience and belief, which can lead to a misleading double-counting of unitary symptoms.

Chapter.  10226 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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