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Psychedelic Therapy and Philosophical Naturalism

Classic, serotonergic psychedelics show promise as rapid and effective treatments for a range of psychiatric conditions. There is evidence that the mechanism of action involves the induction of transcendent mystical-type experiences of “cosmic consciousness”. Such experiences predict clinical outcomes in several studies. Indeed, Huston Smith said that the basic message of psychedelics is that “there is another Reality that puts this one in the shade.”

From the standpoint of philosophical naturalism or materialism, this may seem troubling: it raises the worry that psychedelic therapy works by inducing false, implausible, or evidentially unsupported metaphysical beliefs. In this vein, Owen Flanagan has described psychedelic-induced mystical-type experiences as “metaphysical hallucinations”. Discussing the use of psychedelics in a palliative care context, Michael Pollan wonders: “Is psychedelic therapy simply foisting a comforting delusion on the sick and dying?” I call this the ‘Comforting Delusion Objection’ to psychedelic therapy.

In my forthcoming monograph ‘Philosophy of Psychedelics’ I respond to the Comforting Delusion Objection by arguing that psychedelic therapy can be reconciled with a naturalist or materialist worldview. In this presentation I will give a summary overview of these arguments. My reasons for thinking the Comforting Delusion Objection fails are threefold:

(1) psychedelic therapy is non-doxastic: it does not, in fact, work by changing metaphysical beliefs

(2) psychedelic therapy is epistemically innocent: even when it has epistemic costs, it offers significant and otherwise unavailable epistemic benefits

(3) psychedelic therapy offers a viable paradigm for a naturalistic spirituality: it represents a transformative form of self-transcendent experience that does not depend on non-naturalistic metaphysical beliefs.



September 6th 2019




Room: Rudolf Virchow
Chris Letheby

Chris Letheby

University of Western Australia - Lecturer in Philosophy. University of Adelaide - Postdoctoral Research Fellow more about the speaker

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Conference tickets

With your ticket you will have access to the whole conference - with keynotes, panels, round tables, posters and daylight social events. We will ask for a small extra fee for the Friday evening social program. The pre-conference workshops have to be booked separately and each workshop needs an individual ticket. By clicking on "Book now" below you also have the option to buy your workshop tickets.

*Reduced fees apply to students, cooperation partners as well as unemployed and retired individuals who have a monthly net income below 840,- €. Proof of status will be required.

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