Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 205–224 | Cite as

A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion



Philosophers are interested in the phenomenon of thought insertion because it challenges the common assumption that one can ascribe to oneself the thoughts that one can access first-personally. In the standard philosophical analysis of thought insertion, the subject owns the ‘inserted’ thought but lacks a sense of agency towards it. In this paper we want to provide an alternative analysis of the condition, according to which subjects typically lack both ownership and authorship of the ‘inserted’ thoughts. We argue that by appealing to a failure of ownership and authorship we can describe more accurately the phenomenology of thought insertion, and distinguish it from that of non-delusional beliefs that have not been deliberated about, and of other delusions of passivity. We can also start developing a more psychologically realistic account of the relation between intentionality, rationality and self knowledge in normal and abnormal cognition.


Authorship of thoughts Self-knowledge First-person authority Thought insertion Rationality Ownership of thoughts Intentionality Self-ascription 



The authors are grateful for comments on previous versions of this paper to: the audience of the Philosophy of Psychiatry Work-in-Progress Workshop organised by Rachel Cooper at the University of Lancaster in January 2008; the audience of the Delusions and Self Knowledge Workshop organised by Finn Spicer at the University of Bristol in February 2008; and the audience of the Cognitive Sciences seminar in Barcelona. In particular, the paper benefited from discussion with Hanna Pickard and Jordi Fernández who have been working independently on self knowledge and accounts of alien and inserted thoughts. The authors are also grateful to two anonymous referees for very constructive and helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of BirminghamEdgbastonUK
  2. 2.Health Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical SchoolUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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