Too mad to be true II - The promises and perils of the first-person perspective

May 26-28, 2023

In September 2021, we held the first Too Mad To Be True conference that was dedicated to exploring the various links between philosophy and madness. Because of its vibrant atmosphere and the way it initiated new ways of thinking and communicating around issues of madness and philosophy, we organise a second edition with a new central theme that is both relevant to philosophical and mad theories and practices: ' The promises and perils of the first-person perspective'.

Introduction: Subjectivity and the first-person perspective have become central and popular ideas in various disciplines, such as philosophy, psychiatry, psychology and in psychopathological research. This popularity is due to several reasons. Firstly, in scientific research, a revaluation of the first-person perspective is claimed to lead to more sophisticated diagnostic approaches and explanatory models that would be better informed by the phenomena they seek to explain. For example, common-sense views of psychosis -- e.g., hallucination as mistaken perception, delusion as false belief -- could be challenged and corrected by a more explicit focus on the subjective experience of psychosis. Secondly, in psychiatric practice it is argued that more attention to the first-person perspective would improve empathic understanding of the difficulties patients concretely experience which in turn would contribute to a better therapeutic relationship. Thirdly, from the perspective of patient groups, there has long been a similar demand for using so-called ‘experiential knowledge’, i.e. knowledge grounded in first-person experience, to empower patients and improve mental health care and self- care. 

Despite this convergence by the well-willing regarding the importance and value of the first-person perspective, different sorts of critical questions can and should be raised. For example, is it really that straightforward what the first-person perspective contains, what methods should be employed to examine it, and who is authorized to do so? In this regard, phenomenological approaches are sometimes criticized for taking an unwarranted expert position that would sideline the concrete voice of patients. Furthermore, what are the nature and limits of experiential knowledge? When does the first-person perspective offer not so much a clarification of phenomena but rather a philosophical or even ideological fallacy? For example, the analytic tradition of Wittgenstein has traditionally been critical of the exclusive focus on "experience" to understand concepts such as self, action, free will - how does such criticism relate to the tradition of phenomenological psychopathology? In addition, in most philosophical strands after phenomenology proper (e.g., materialist and poststructuralist thought), a similar skepticism can be found surrounding the constant focus on the 'I', ‘ experience’ and 'consciousness' which would relegate the concrete material conditions of people to the background. What implications do these theoretical decenterings and deconstructions of subjectivity have for modern psychiatric discourse around first-person experience? 

In this second edition of the Too Mad to be True congress, we aim to further develop and question the promises, limits and risks of the first-person perspective through invited presentations by international keynote speakers and an open call for papers for interested researchers. Possible themes for the presentations include the following non-exhaustive list: 

1) What is the importance of the first-person perspective in philosophy, psychiatry and scientific research? How can diagnostics, explanatory models, and treatments be informed and improved by taking this first-person perspective into account? 

2) What is the first-person perspective? Is it related only to concepts such as the "self," "consciousness," "subjectivity," and "lived experience," or should it be understood more broadly through a focus on language, intersubjectivity, or unconsciousness? 

3) How can the first-person perspective be explored? What are the possibilities and limits of phenomenological methods? How does the transcendental ambition of phenomenological philosophy relate to the concrete experience of everyday life? 

4) What is the nature of subjective experience in various forms of madness: e.g., in psychosis, autism, depersonalization, obsessions, ...? For example, is psychosis just about an altered "experience," or is there more at stake? 

5) What are the nature, possibilities and limits of 'experiential knowledge'? 

6) What critical questions can be raised about the focus on 'subjective experience' from various philosophical movements after phenomenology (e.g., Wittgenstein, Deleuze, Lacan, Foucault, Meillassoux)? What implications do these critiques have for psychiatric research and practice? 

Mad world caveat. Around conferences like this we are used to apply the predicate of madness to individual and, at its most, to group level instances. However, when we consider the state of the world in our times, we cannot deny that humanity as a whole with respect to its planetary self-destructive tendencies counts as a prime candidate for this predicate. And, although we have an agnostic and detached stance with respect to the desirability of ‘madness’ as a theoretical concept or individual experience, we do not appreciate, let alone want to stimulate, its planetary destructive aspect. Therefore, we would like to urge all those who consider to attend this conference, to do this in a ecologically friendly way. Please, consider your way of attending the conference, in live presence or online, and if you attend live, please also consider your means of transport.

7) Finally, and related to this caveat: How do discourse, concepts and experiences, of madness on the micro level of phenomenology, psychology and psychiatry relate to the madness on the planetary level?


Practical information
  • Date: 26-28 may, 2023
  • Location: Ghent, Museum dr. Guislain
  • Call for Papers: Please send us your abstract and a short bio, in max 400 words, before March 1, via: info@psychiatrieenfilosofie.nl
  • Registration: to be followed. Both for speakers as for participants there will be both an online attendance option and a physical attendance possibility
  • When you want to receive more information, send us an email, info@psychiatrieenfilosofie.nl, and we put you onto the list for our newsletter

Organisers 
University of Ghent, Jasper Feyaerts
Foundation for Psychiatry and Philosophy, Wouter Kusters