Professor Lisa Bortolotti MA (London), BPhil (Oxon), PhD (ANU)

Photograph of Professor Lisa Bortolotti

Department of Philosophy
Professor of Philosophy

Contact details

Room 213, Institute for Mental Health, 52 Pritchatts Road
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a philosopher of the cognitive sciences, focusing on the philosophy of psychology and psychiatry. I am also interested in biomedical ethics.

Feedback and office hours

I am on research leave right now. Contact me by email if you want an appointment or are interested in PhD supervision.


I have a Laurea in Filosofia (summa cum laude) from the University of Bologna (1997), an MA in Philosophy (with Distinction) from the University of London (1998), a BPhil from Oxford (2000) and a PhD in Philosophy from the Australian National University in Canberra (2004).


Before joining the Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer in 2005, I was Honorary Lecturer in Bioethics in the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy at the University of Manchester and Research Associate on the EC-funded EU-RECA (on the concept of research and the ethical regulation of research activities) coordinated by Professor John Harris. Since at Birmingham, my research and teaching has focused on the philosophy of the cognitive sciences (rationality and belief).

I am the author of a textbook, Introduction to the philosophy of science (Polity Press, 2008), a monograph, Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs (OUP, 2009), and a key concepts book, Irrationality (Polity, 2014). In 2011 I was awarded the American Philosophical Association Book Prize for the monograph. I am currently working on another monograph provisionally entitled Epistemic Innocence.

I edited three volumes, Philosophy and Happiness (Palgrave, 2009); with Matthew Broome, Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives (OUP, 2009) which was listed among the Guardian Books of the Year in 2009; and Delusions in Context (Palgrave, 2018) with contributions by Philip Corlett, Richard Bentall, Rachel Upthegrove, and myself. Delusions in Context is available open access. 


Until December 2019 I will be on research leave.

Before going on leave, I taught Philosophical Texts (level 2), Philosophy of Science (level 2), Philosophy of Psychology (level 3), Philosophy of Cognitive Science (M-level), and I co-taught Philosophy of Health & Happiness (M-level). 

I continue to supervise postgraduate research students. Topics include: nonhuman ethics; perception in delusion formation; the cognitive benefits of bipolar disorder; psychiatric diagnosis, identity and responsibility for action; empathy and the emotions; suicide and depression; the rationality of emotions; classification in psychiatry and theories of normativity; schizophrenia and suicide; the adaptive nature of delusions.

Postgraduate supervision

  • Philosophy of Psychology (belief, delusion, confabulation, memory, rationality)
  • Philosophy of Psychiatry (classification and diagnosis, psychiatric ethics, notion of mental disorder) 


The three stigmas about mental health we need to deconstruct | Lisa Bortolotti | TEDxBrum 2017


My research topics include: theories of belief ascription, rationality debate in philosophy and cognitive science, rationality and self knowledge in psychopathology, delusions and confabulation, psychological realism, autonomy and personhood, demarcation between science and pseudoscience, research ethics, reproductive ethics, animal rights, death and immortality. More recently, I got interested in theories of delusion formation, in the relationship between having a diagnosis of mental illness and being morally responsible for one's actions, and in the phenomena of positive illusions and unrealistic optimism.

My 5-year project, funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant (80%, EUR 1.900.065), is called PERFECT, Pragmatic and Epistemic Role of Factually Erroneous Cognitions and Thoughts. It features a team of three post-doctoral researchers and two PhD students, and Michael Larkin from the School of Psychology is also involved. PERFECT featured in the Birmingham Heroes campaign on research that matters in November 2015.

From September 2015 for 12 months I was on a non-residential fellowship (20%, $76,299) for a project entitled "Costs and Benefits of Optimism" as part of a funding initiative on Hope and Optimism supported by the Templeton Foundation and managed by Cornell University and the University of Notre Dame.

From September 2013 for twelve months I was funded by an AHRC Fellowship to pursue a project entitled "The Epistemic Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions". 

In 2012 I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in the Ethics & Society stream on Moral Responsibility and Psychopathology which funded a workshop on the topic in March 2013. Co-applicants were Matthew Broome (University of Oxford) and Matteo Mameli (King's College London).

From January to June 2011 I was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Expense Grant for a project on Rationality and Sanity. 

In 2009 I was awarded AHRC reseach leave for a project on the nature of clinical delusions, and an Endeavour Research Fellowship (offered by the Department of Education, Employment and the Workplace Relations of the Australian Government) to work with Professor Max Coltheart and other members of the Belief Formation group at Macquarie University.

Other activities

Professional service

  • Series Editor for International Perspectives on Philosophy and Psychiatry, Oxford University Press. 
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Wellbeing.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Ethics Science and Innovation book series, Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Topoi.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.
  • On the Advisory Board of Philosophical Inquiries (philinq).
  • Associate Editor for Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2013-2016).
  • E-letter Editor for Journal of Medical Ethics (2005-2010).


I am a member of the Higher Education Academy, the British Philosophical Association, the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology and the European Society for Analytic Philosophy. From 2010 to 2013 I was committee member for the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, and from 2010 to 2015 I was on the Executive of the Mind Association.



Selected papers and books chapters

  • L Bortolotti and E Sullivan-Bissett (2018). The epistemic innocence of clinical memory distortions. Mind & Language.
  • K Puddifoot and L Bortolotti (2018). Epistemic innocence and the production of false memory beliefsPhil Studies.
  • R Gunn and L Bortolotti (2018). Can delusions play a protective role? Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.
  • L Bortolotti (2017). Stranger than fiction: Costs and benefits of everyday confabulation. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.
  • A Jefferson, L Bortolotti and B Kuzmanovic (2017). What is unrealistic optimism? Consciousness & Cognition 50, 3-11. 
  • L Bortolotti and K Miyazono (2016). The ethics of delusional beliefErkenntnis 81 (2), 275-296.
  • L Bortolotti (2016). Epistemic benefits of elaborated and systematised delusions in schizophreniaBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3), 879-900.
  • L Bortolotti and K Miyazono (2015). Recent work on the nature and development of delusions. Philosophy Compass 10 (9), 636-645.
  • L Bortolotti and K Miyazono (2015). Are alien thoughts beliefs? (Commentary on Jordi Fernandez’s Transparent Minds). Teorema 34 (1), 135-148.
  • L Bortolotti and M Antrobus (2015). Costs and benefits of realism and optimismCurrent Opinion in Psychiatry 28 (2), 194-198.
  • L Bortolotti (2015). The epistemic innocence of motivated delusionsConsciousness & Cognition 33, 490-499.
  • J Craigie and L Bortolotti (2014). Rationality, Diagnosis, and Patient Autonomy in Psychiatry. In J.Z. Sadler, B Fulford, C W van Staden (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Psychiatric Ethics, Oxford University Press.
  • N Sabbarton-Leary, L Bortolotti and M Broome (2014). Natural and Para-natural Kinds in Psychiatry. In P Zachar, DS Stoyanov, M Aragona, A Jablensky (eds.) Alternative Perspectives in Psychiatric Validation. Oxford University Press, 76-93.
  • K Miyazono, L Bortolotti and M Broome (2014). Prediction-error and two-factor theories of delusion formation: competitors or allies? In N Galbraith (ed.) Aberrant Beliefs and Reasoning. Psychology Press, 34-54.
  • B Fulford, L Bortolotti, M Broome (2014). Taking the Long View: an Emerging Framework for Translational Psychiatric Science. World Psychiatry 13 (2), 110–117.
  • L Bortolotti, M Broome, M Mameli (2013). Delusions and Responsibility for Action: Insights from the Breivik Case. Neuroethics, doi 10.1007/s12152-013-9198-4.
  • L Bortolotti (2013). The relative importance of undesirable truthsMedicine Health Care and Philosophy 16 (4), 683–690.
  • L Bortolotti and M Broome (2012). Affective dimensions of the phenomenon of double bookkeeping in delusions. Emotion Review 4 (2), 187–191.
  • L Bortolotti, R Cox and A Barnier (2012). Can we recreate delusions in the laboratory? Philosophical Psychology 25 (1), 109–131.
  • L Bortolotti and M Mameli (2012). Self-deception, delusion and the boundaries of folk psychologyHumana.Mente 20, 203–221.
  • L Bortolotti (2012). In defence of modest doxasticism about delusions. Neuroethics 5 (1), 39-53.
  • L Bortolotti, R Cox, M Broome and M Mameli (2012). Rationality and self-knowledge in delusions and confabulations: implications for autonomy as self-governance. In Radoilska (ed.) Autonomy and Mental Disorder. Oxford University Press, chapter 5, 100-122.
  • L Bortolotti and H Widdows (2011). The right not to know: the case of psychiatric disordersJournal of Medical Ethics 37, 673-676.
  • L Bortolotti (2011). Does reflection lead to wise choices?Philosophical Explorations 14 (3), 297-313.
  • M Broome, M Mameli and L Bortolotti (2010). Moral responsibility and mental illness: a case study. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 19 (2), 179-187.
  • L Bortolotti (2010). Agency, life extension, and the meaning of life. The Monist 93 (1), 38-56.
  • L Bortolotti and R Cox (2009). 'Faultless' ignorance: strengths and limitations of epistemic definitions of confabulation. Consciousness & Cognition 18 (4): 952-965.
  • L Bortolotti (2009). 'Delusion'. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Revised and updated in 2013.
  • L Bortolotti (2009). The epistemic benefits of reason giving. Theory & Psychology 19 (5), 1-22.
  • L Bortolotti and Y Nagasawa (2009). Immortality without Boredom. Ratio XXII (3), 261-277.
  • L Bortolotti and M Broome (2009). A role for ownership and authorship in the analysis of thought insertion. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8 (2), 205-224.
  • L Bortolotti and D Cutas (2009). Reproductive and parental autonomy: an argument for compulsory parental education. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 19, 5-14.
  • L Bortolotti and M Broome (2008). Delusional beliefs and reason giving. Philosophical Psychology 21 (6), 801-821.
  • L Bortolotti and B Heinrichs (2008). Delimiting the concept of research: an ethical perspective. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 28 (3), 157-179.
  • L Bortolotti and M Mameli (2006). Deception in psychology: moral costs and benefits of unsought self-knowledge. Accountability in Research 13 (3), 259-275.
  • L Bortolotti (2006). Moral rights and human culture. Ethical Perspectives 13 (4), 603-622.
  • M Mameli and L Bortolotti (2006). Animal rights, animal minds and human mindreading. Journal of Medical Ethics 32, 84-89.
  • L Bortolotti (2005). Intentionality without rationality. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society CV (3), 385-392.
  • L Bortolotti (2005). Delusions and the background of rationality. Mind & Language 20 (2), 189-208.
  • L Bortolotti and J Harris (2005). Stem cell research, personhood and sentience. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 10 (1), 68-75.

Selected blog posts

Selection of recent talks

  • "Choice Blindness and the Fluidity of the Self" at the Reasons, Rationality and Intentional Agency Workshop, LSE, September 2017.
  • "Optimism and Success", Hay Festival, May 2017.
  • "Responsibility and Choice Blindness" both at the Reassessing Responsibility Workshop, Trinity Hall Cambridge, April 2017 and at the "Moral Responsibility: the Hard Cases", University of Birmingham, May 2017.
  • "Epistemic Innocence", LOGOS Colloquium, Barcelona, October 2016.
  • " What is Positive about Positive Illusions", Keynote lecture at the Annual Meeting of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, Cardiff, July 2016.
  • "Agency without Rationality", Inaugural Lecture, University of Birmingham, May 2016.
  • "Are Positive Illusions Epistemically Innocent?", PERFECT 2016, London, February 2016.
  • "Responsibility and Control", CRASSH Moral Psychology Conference, Cambridge, October 2015.
  • "Confabulation, Self-knowledge, and Reason-giving", Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation Workshop, VU University of Amsterdam, June 2015.
  • "Optimism, Psychological Adaptiveness, and Mental Health", Mental Health Research Seminar, University of Birmingham, January 2015.
  • "Delusion and Emotion" at the joint meeting of the Thumos/Phrontis/Episteme research groups, Swiss Centre for Affective Studies in Geneva, December 2014.
  • "The Epistemic Innocence of Motivated Delusions", Senior Research Seminar, Philosophy Department, University of Leeds, October 2014.
  • "The Epistemic Innocence of Distorted Memories", History and Philosophy of Medicine seminar, University of Bristol, March 2014.
  • "The Epistemic Innocence Project: the Case of Delusions", CamPoS seminar, University of Cambridge, January 2014.
  • "Epistemic benefits and shortfalls of clinical delusions", Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy, Madrid, September 2013.
  • "Narratives and distorted memories", Narrative, self-understanding and the regulation of emotion in psychiatric disorder, Institute of Philosophy, London, October 2012.
  • "Imperfect beliefs", Workshop on Belief, Harvard University, Cambridge (MA), September 2012.
  • "In defence of the doxastic account of delusions", Brains with Minds Workshop on Dimensions of Delusions, Berlin, May 2012.
  • "Delusions and the Philosophy and Psychology of Belief". Series of five lectures at the University of Tokyo Centre for Philosophy, October 2010.


Philosophy of psychiatry and psychology; rationality; mental illness.

Media experience

Traditional media:

  • Invited as a guest on a radio programme by BBC World Service, The Forum, Unintended Consequences, November 2014.
  • Quoted on the front page of the Telegraph on a piece about forced treatment for an incapacitated patient, May 2010.
  • Interviewed by John Elder for the Sunday Age, Melbourne, about the strive for perfection, September 2009.
  • Author of a piece on the question “Should human reproductive cloning be allowed?” by BBC Focus Magazine, June 2009.
  • Participated in a debate on animal rights on animal rights in the New Statesman, February 2008.
  • Invited to join the expert panel for animal ethics and animal cognition in BBC1 The Big Questions, October 2007.

Podcasts and video clips:


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  • Philosophy of psychiatry and psychology
  • Rationality
  • Mental illness
  • Mental Health and Rationality
  • Autonomy and personhood
  • Demarcation between science and pseudoscience
  • Research ethics
  • Reproductive ethics

Policy experience

Policy briefs

Alternative contact number available for this expert: contact the press office