Self-Deception First published Tue Oct 17, 2006; substantive revision Mon Mar 5, 2012 Virtually every aspect

of the current philosophical discussion of self-deception is a matter of controversy including its definition and paradigmatic cases. We may say generally, however, that self-deception is the acquisition and maintenance of a belief (or, at least, the avowal of that belief) in the face of strong evidence to the contrary motivated by desires or emotions favoring the acquisition and retention of that belief. Beyond this, philosophers divide over whether this action is intentional or not, whether self-deceivers recognize the belief being acquired is unwarranted on the available evidence, whether self-deceivers are morally responsible for their self-deception, and whether self-deception is morally problematic (and if it is in what ways and under what circumstances). The discussion of self-deception and its associated puzzles gives us insight into the ways in which motivation affects belief acquisition and retention. And yet insofar as self-deception represents an obstacle to self-knowledge, which has potentially serious moral implications, selfdeception is more than an interesting philosophical puzzle. It is a problem of particular concern for moral development, since self-deception can make us strangers to ourselves and blind to our own moral failings.
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1. Definitional Issues 2. Intentionalist Approaches
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2.1 Temporal Partitioning 2.2 Psychological Partitioning

3. Non-Intentionalist Approaches
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3.1 Intentionalist Objections

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4. Twisted Self-Deception 5. Morality and Self-deception
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5.1 Moral Responsibility for Self-Deception 5.2 The Morality of Self-Deception

6. Collective Self-Deception
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6.1 Summative Collective Self-Deception: Self-Deception Across a Collective: 6.2 Non-summative Collective Self-Deception: Self-Deception of a Collective Entity

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Bibliography Academic Tools

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1. Definitional Issues What is self-deception? Traditionally, self-deception has been modeled on interpersonal deception, where A intentionally gets B to believe some proposition p, all the while knowing or believing truly ~p. Such deception is intentional and requires the deceiver to know or believe ~p and the deceived to believe p. One reason for thinking self-deception is analogous to interpersonal deception of this sort is that it helps us to distinguish self-deception from mere error, since the acquisition and maintenance of the false belief is intentional not accidental. If selfdeception is properly modeled on such interpersonal deception, self-deceivers intentionally get themselves to believe p, all the while knowing or believing truly ~p. On this traditional model, then, self-deceivers apparently must (1) hold contradictory beliefs, and (2) intentionally get themselves to hold a belief they know or believe truly to be false. The traditional model of self-deception, however, has been thought to raise two paradoxes: One concerns the self-deceiver's state of mind—the so-called ‘static’ paradox. How can a person simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs? The other concerns the process or dynamics of selfdeception—the so-called ‘dynamic’ or ‘strategic’ paradox. How can a person intend to deceive herself without rendering her intentions ineffective? (Mele 1987a; 2001) The requirement that the self-deceiver holds contradictory beliefs raises the ‘static’ paradox, since it seems to pose an impossible state of mind, namely, consciously believing p and ~pat the same time. As the deceiver, she must believe ~p, and, as the deceived, she must believe p. Accordingly, the self-deceiver consciously believe p and ~p. But if believing both a proposition and its negation in full awareness is an impossible state of mind to be in, then self-deception as it has traditionally been understood seems to be impossible as well. The requirement that the self-deceiver intentionally gets herself to hold a believe she knows to be false raises the ‘dynamic’ or ‘strategic’ paradox, since it seems to involve the self-deceiver in an impossible project, namely, both deploying and being duped by some deceitful strategy. As the deceiver, she must be aware she's deploying a deceitful strategy; but, as the deceived, she must be unaware of this strategy for it to be effective. And yet it is difficult to see how the self-deceiver could fail to be aware of her intention to deceive. A strategy known to be deceitful, however, seems bound to fail. How could I be taken in by your efforts to get me to believe something false, if I know what you're up to? But if it's impossible to be taken in by a strategy one knows is deceitful, then, again, self-deception as it has traditionally been understood seems to be impossible as well. These paradoxes have led a minority of philosophers to be skeptical that self-deception is possible (Paluch 1967; Haight 1980). In view of the empirical evidence that self-deception is not only

no paradox seems to be involved in deceiving oneself. and along the way lose her belief that ~p. brought about the true belief she would have arrived at anyway (Sorensen 1985. Intentionalists find the model of intentional interpersonal deception apt. albeit accidentally. or regarding it as having. such as semi-autonomous subsystems. and thus over the specific content of the alleged intention involved in selfdeception. 2. that it seems impossible to form an intention to get oneself to believe what one currently disbelieves or believes is false. When her activities are investigated a year later.. Many approaches utilize some combination of psychological and temporal division (e. 2. So. Insofar as even the bare intention to acquire the belief that p for reasons not having to do with one's evidence for p seems unlikely to succeed if directly known. Intentionalist Approaches The chief problem facing intentional models of self-deception is the dynamic paradox. she has forgotten her tampering efforts and based upon her falsified evidence comes to believe falsely that she was not involved in the illegal activities of which she is accused. since it helps to explain the apparent responsibility of selfdeceivers for their self-deception. Non-intentionalists are impressed by the static and dynamic paradoxes allegedly involved in modeling self-deception on intentional interpersonal deception and. For one to carry out an intention to deceive oneself one must know what one is doing. namely. most intentionalists introduce temporal or psychological divisions that serve to insulate self-deceivers from the awareness of their deceptive strategy. Bermúdez 2000). in their view. These approaches can be organized into two main groups: those that maintain that the paradigmatic cases of self-deception are intentional.1 Temporal Partitioning Some intentionalists argue that self-deception is a complex process that is often extended over time and as such a self-deceiver can consciously set out to deceive herself into believingp.g. an official involved in some illegal behavior might destroy any records of this behavior and create evidence that would cover it up (diary entries. When self-deceivers are not consciously aware of their beliefs to the contrary or their deceptive intentions. Intentionalists agree on the proposition that self-deception is intentional. Call these approaches intentionalist and non-intentionalist respectively. so an unbeliever who sets out to get herself to believe in God (since she thinks such a belief is . for instance. emails and the like). to succeed one must be ignorant of this same fact. but pervasive (Sahdra & Thagard 2003). but divide over whether it requires the holding of contradictory beliefs. either forgetting her original deceptive intention entirely. The self-deceiver need not even forget her original intention to deceive. unconscious beliefs and intentions and the like. Here the self-deceiver need never simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs even though she intends to bring it about that she believe p. and those that deny this. knowing that she will likely forget having done these things over the next few months. Bermúdez 2000). most have sought some resolution to these paradoxes. its selectivity and difference from other sorts of motivated belief such as wishful thinking. knowing or believing ~p.possible. which she regards as false at the outset of the process of deceiving herself and true at its completion. the equally puzzling psychological models used by intentionalists to avoid these paradoxes.

to the relatively modest division of Davidson. they do so by introducing a picture of the mind that raises many puzzles of its own. She might have no views at all regarding p. where the deceiving part still constitutes a separate center of agency (Pears 1984.2 Psychological Partitioning Another strategy employed by intentionalists is the division of the self into psychological parts that play the role of the deceiver and deceived respectively. what Talbott (1995) calls ‘innocent’ divisions. 1986. the deceptive subsystem. the normal degradation of memory. So. where the deceiving part is a relatively autonomous subagency capable of belief. One can believe p and believe ~p without believing p & ~p. These strategies range from positing strong division in the self. for example. there appears to be consensus even among intentionalists that self-deception can and should be accounted for without invoking divisions not already used to explain non-self-deceptive behavior. while it is clear that such temporal partitioning accounts apparently avoid the static and dynamic paradoxes. the tendency to believe what one practices. possessing evidence for or against p too weak to warrant belief that p or ~p (Bermúdez . The problem such theorists face stems from the appearance that the belief that ~p motivates and thus form a part of the intention to bring it about that one acquire and maintain the false belief p (Davidson 1985). Some intentionalists reject the requirement that self-deceivers hold contradictory beliefs (Talbott 1995. whether it constitutes a separate center of agency or something less robust. The self-deceiver thus need not believe ~p. which though strange. he can't intend to bring it about that he holds such a false belief if he doesn't recognize it is false. 1985). the only thing necessary for self-deception is the intention to bring it about that one believe p where lacking such an intention one would not have acquired that belief. It isn't simply that self-deceivers hold contradictory beliefs. etc. According to such theorists. where there need only be a boundary between conflicting attitudes (1982. Such divisions are prompted in large part by the acceptance of the contradictory belief requirement. the Nazi official's recognition that his actions implicate him in serious evil motivates him to implement a strategy to deceive himself into believing he is not so involved. and he wouldn't want to bring such a belief about if he didn't recognize the evidence to the contrary. 1991). Some non-intentionalists take this to be a hint that the process by which self-deception is accomplished is subintentional (Johnston 1988). 2. indirection and tension associated with garden-variety cases of self-deception (e. While these psychological partitioning approaches seem to resolve the static and dynamic puzzles.g.g.prudent. So long as this is the case. must be hidden from the conscious self being deceived if the self-deceptive intention is to succeed. many find such cases fail to capture the distinctive opacity. having read Pascal) might well remember such an intention at the end of the process and deem that by God's grace even this misguided path led her to the truth. It is crucial to see here that what enables the intention to succeed in such cases is the operation of what Johnston (1988) terms ‘autonomous means’ (e. isn't impossible. Levy 2004). Bermúdez 2000). which would be impossible.) not the continued awareness of the intention. or she might believe p is merely possible. desire and intention (Rorty 1988).. On this point. possessing no evidence either for or against p. to more moderate division.. In any case.

argue the needed motivation can as easily . Others. Barnes 1997) or some other emotion regarding p or related to p. and it is this function (not an intention) that explains why her belief formation process is bias. opting instead to treat it as a species of motivationally biased belief. If such nonexotic explanations are available. anxiety (Johnston 1988. but everyday or ‘garden-variety’ self-deception can be explained without adverting to subagents. Johnston 1988). her fear that she has such difficulties. or unconscious beliefs and intentions. her belief that her daughter is having learning difficulties along with her desire that it not be the case motivate her to employ means to avoid this thought and to believe the opposite. such a model may not appear promising for self-deception. the non-intentionalist will explain the various ways she misreads the evidence by pointing to such things as her desire that her daughter not have learning difficulties. Accordingly. when Allison believes against the preponderance of evidence available to her that her daughter is not having learning difficulties. Some non-intentionalists suppose that self-deceivers recognize at some level that their selfdeceptive belief p is false. Sam mishears that it will be a sunny day and relays this misinformation to Joan with the result that she believes it will be a sunny day. in Allison's case. however. Non-Intentionalist Approaches A number of philosophers have moved away from modeling self-deception on intentional interpersonal deception.2000). Mele 2001). Allison's self-deceptive belief that her daughter is not having learning difficulties. which. Allison's false belief is not an innocent mistake. The main paradoxes of self-deception seem to arise from modeling self-deception too closely on intentional interpersonal deception. contending that self-deception essentially involves an ongoing effort to resist the thought of this unwelcome truth or is driven by anxiety prompted by this recognition (Bach 1981. just deceived. Initially. Joan is deceived in believing it will be sunny and Sam has deceived her. For instance. since simply being mistaken about p or accidentally causing oneself to be mistaken about p doesn't seem to be self-deception at all but some sort of innocent error—Sam doesn't seem self-deceived. but a consequence of her motivational states. 3. intentionalist explanations seem unwarranted. quells her fear or reduces her anxiety. Non-intentionalists. however. for instance. even if they resolve the static and dynamic puzzles of self-deception. Even on this minimal account. such intentions will often be unconscious. argue that in cases of self-deception the false belief is not accidental but motivated by desire (Mele 2001). since a strategy to acquire a belief in violation of one's normal evidential standards seems unlikely to succeed if one is aware of it. In such cases. or anxiety over this possibility. despite their recognition at the outset that they do not possess enough evidence to warrant this belief by selectively gathering evidence supporting p or otherwise manipulating the belief-formation process to favor belief that p. raise many puzzles of there own. These non-intentionalists allow that phenomena answering to the various intentionalist models available may be possible. So. fulfills her desire. Self-deceivers in this minimal sense intentionally acquire the belief that p. albeit unintentionally. non-intentionalists suggest the intentional model be jettisoned in favor of one that takes ‘to be deceived’ to be nothing more than to believe falsely or be mistaken in believing (Johnston 1988. So.

. Josh would be happier believing falsely that the gourmet chocolate he finds so delicious isn't produced by exploited farmers than falsely believing that it is. then one is self-deceived. So. and have some desire or emotion that explains why p is believed and retained. Allison need not intend to deceive herself nor believe at any point that her daughter is in fact having learning difficulties. Why is it. Accordingly. self-deceivers are thought to be responsible and open to censure in many instances (See section 5. or suspicion that ~p (Mele 2001. 2000). Thus. emotion or other motivation one has related to p. Johnston 1988). argues that selectivity may be explained in terms of the agent's assessment of the relative costs of erroneously believing p and ~p. but self-deception includes unwelcome as well as wishful belief. without recognizing. or merely possess.1 for this last item). for example.1 Intentionalist Objections Intentionalists contend these deflationary accounts do not adequately distinguish self-deception from other sorts of motivated believing. 3. that makes her belief self-deceptive. it takes a great deal more evidence to convince him that his chocolate is so tainted than it does to convince . not her recognition of this evidence. Allison need not hold any opinion regarding her daughter's having learning difficulties for her false belief that she is not experiencing difficulties to count as self-deception. If we think someone like Allison is self-deceived. greater counterevidence than wishful thinkers. In general. termed the ‘selectivity problem’ by Bermúdez (1997. Another objection raised by intentionalists is that deflationary accounts cannot explain the selective nature of self-deception.be supplied by uncertainty or ignorance whether p. Mele (2001).g. according to intentionalists just is that the latter is intentional while the former is not (e. since it is her regarding evidence in a motivationally biased way in the face of evidence to the contrary. then self-deception requires neither contradictory beliefs nor intentions regarding the acquisition or retention of the self-deceptive belief. Non-intentionalists respond that what distinguishes wishful thinking from self-deception is that self-deceivers recognize evidence against their self-deceptive belief whereas wishful thinkers do not (Bach 1981. and thus may be motivated by something other than a desire that the target belief be true (See section 4 for more on this variety of self-deception). Barnes 1997). drawing on empirical research regarding lay hypothesis testing. that we are not rendered bias in favor of the belief that p in many cases where we have a very strong desire that p (or anxiety or some other motivation related to p)? Intentionalists argue that an intention to get oneself to acquire the belief that p offers a relatively straightforward answer to this question. and lack a compelling explanation for why. What distinguishes wishful thinking from self-deception. typically. possess evidence that ~p. Bermúdez 2000). one need only hold a false belief p. since he desires that it not be so produced. such intentionalists ask. cannot explain the peculiar selectivity associated with self-deception. Because Josh considers the cost of erroneously believing his favorite chocolate is tainted by exploitation to be very high—no other chocolate gives him the same pleasure. Some contend wishful thinking is a species of self-deception. if one possesses evidence that one normally would take to support ~p and yet believes p instead due to some desire. On such deflationary views of self-deception.

If I falsely believe that I have not left the burner on. furthermore. points out that intentional strategies have their own ‘selectivity problem'. he contends that we think of the belief as serving to make the agent's goals and interests more probable than not. despite his desire that it not be. Pears (1984) has argued that unwelcome belief might be driven by fear or jealousy. In these circumstances. 2001). Mele (1999. most recently. something he doesn't want to be the case. If a unified account is sought. their reduction cannot be the purpose of that belief. 2001). Say. The asymmetry between these relative . One question philosophers have sought to answer is how a single unified account of self-deception can explain both welcome and unwelcome beliefs. for example. in this case my anxiety that my house is burning. Instead. Barnes (1997). since it isn't clear why some intentions to acquire a self-deceptive belief succeed while others do not. 2001) argues. Challenging this solution. Mele (2001). 4. If I falsely believe that I have left the burner on. 2001). however. Bermúdez (2000) suggests that the selectivity problem may reemerge. has generated a small but growing literature of its own. Josh is more sensitive to evidence that his favorite chocolate is tainted. In this case. Twisted Self-Deception Self-deception that involves the acquisition of an unwanted belief. since it isn't clear why in cases where there is a relatively low cost for holding a self-deceptive belief favored by our motivations we frequently do not become self-deceived. My testing and confirming an unwelcome belief may be explained by the costs I associate with being in error. since it leads me to confirm that the burner is off. then it seems self-deception cannot require that the self-deceptive belief itself be desired. It is the low subjective cost of falsely believing the chocolate is not tainted that facilitates Josh's self-deception. he works for an organization promoting fair trade and nonexploitive labor practices among chocolate producers and believes he has an obligation to accurately represent the labor practices of the producer of his favorite chocolate and would. which is determined in view of my relevant aims and interests. however. This unwelcome belief serves to ensure that I avoid what I fear. termed ‘twisted self-deception’ by Mele (1999. preserving my house. Scott-Kakures (2000. But we can imagine Josh having the same strong desire that his chocolate not be tainted by exploitation and yet assessing the cost of falsely believing it is not tainted differently. A typical example of such selfdeception is the jealous husband who believes on weak evidence that his wife is having an affair.him otherwise. It is the relative subjective costs of falsely believing p and ~p that explains why desire or other motivation biases belief in some circumstances and not others. My fear of my house burning down might motivate my false belief that I have left the stove burner on. the husband apparently comes to have this false belief in the face of strong evidence to the contrary in ways similar to those ordinary selfdeceivers come to believe something they want to be true. the cost is relatively low —I am inconvenienced by confirming that it is off. Scott-Kakures (2000. the cost is extremely high—my house being destroyed by fire. that since the unwelcome belief itself does not in many cases serve to reduce but rather to increase anxiety or fear. since the subjective cost of being wrong is higher for him than it was before. lose credibility if the chocolate he himself consumes is tainted by exploitation. Barnes (1997) argues that the unwelcome belief must serve to reduce some relevant anxiety. in my case.

what distinguishes them is that twisted self-deceivers do not want p to be the case.. Rorty 1972. what unifies cases of self-deception—both twisted and straight—is that the self-deceptive belief is motivated by a desire to believe p. 5. however. and if so. Some thinkers. intentionalists hold that self-deceivers are responsible.g. whether desire. self-deception has been thought to be morally wrong or. but not want it to be the case that I have left it on. because holding it ensures that it will not be true. what Martin (1986) calls ‘the vital lie tradition’. Even .costs alone may account for my manipulation of evidence confirming the false belief that I have left the burner on. There are two major questions regarding the morality of self-deception: First. Nevertheless. since they intend to acquire the self-deceptive belief. since a belief itself might be desirable even if its being true is not. In Nelkin's view. since it helps to account for the roles desires and emotions apparently play in cases of twisted self-deception. may represent a great obstacle to a life well lived whether or not one is at fault for such ignorance. Though non-intentional models of twisted selfdeception dominate the landscape. 1994). Nelkin (2002) argues that the motivation for self-deceptive belief formation be restricted to a desire to believe p. then their responsibility for whatever morally objectionable consequences it might have will be mitigated if not eliminated. self-deception might be morally significant even if one cannot be taxed for entering into it. can a person be held morally responsible for self-deception and if so under what conditions? Second. while straight self-deceivers do. what and under what circumstances? The answers to these questions are clearly intertwined. both Mele (2001) and Scott-Kakures (2000) advocate a model of this sort. Restricting the motivating desire to a desire to believe p. a cover for immoral activity. Morality and Self-deception Despite the fact that much of the contemporary philosophical discussion of self-deception has focused on epistemology. In general. have held that self-deception can in some instances be salutary. The belief is desirable in this instance. the morality of selfdeception has been the central focus of discussion historically. If self-deceivers cannot be held responsible for self-deception. To be ignorant of one's moral self. usually recognizing the evidence to the contrary. Drawing upon recent empirical research. and a violation of authenticity. She points out that the phrase “unwelcome belief” is ambiguous. emotion or some combination of these attitudes plays the dominant role in such self-deception and whether their influence merely triggers the process or continues to guide it throughout remain matters of controversy.1 Moral Responsibility for Self-Deception Whether self-deceivers can be held responsible for their self-deception is largely a question of whether they have the requisite control over the acquisition and maintenance of their selfdeceptive belief. I might want to hold the belief that I have left the burner on. at least. as Socrates saw. makes clear what twisted and straight self-deception have in common as well as why other forms of motivated belief formation are not cases of self-deception. 5. As a threat to moral selfknowledge. then. is there is anything morally problematic with self-deception. morally dangerous. according to Nelkin. protecting us from truths that would make life unlivable (e. philosophical psychology and philosophy of mind.

requires that the mechanism in question be . or for the vices of cowardice and lack of self-control from which they spring. or desire triggers a process that ineluctably leads me to hold the self-deceptive belief. such that were she to possess such reasons this same mechanism would act upon those reasons in at least one possible world (Fischer and Ravizza 1999). they can be criticized for lacking courage in situations where having courage is neither superhumanly difficult nor costly” (175). If my anxiety. fear. So. holds that a person is responsible just in case she acts on a mechanism that is moderately responsive to reasons (including moral reasons). Other non-intentionalists take self-deceivers to be responsible for certain epistemic vices such as cowardice in the face of fear or anxiety and lack of self-control with respect the biasing influences of desire and emotion. such as when one intentionally seeks evidence in favor of p or avoids collecting or examining evidence to the contrary. They might also challenge the idea the self-deceivers must be aware in the ways Levy suggests. Lacking such awareness.when the intention is indirect. they are responsible for such actions and omissions. One well known account of control. employed by Levy. do hold self-deceivers responsible for individual episodes of self-deception. minimally. How can I be held responsible for processes that operate without my knowledge and which are set in motion without my intention? Most non-intentionalist accounts. however. resist their biases” (83) and “can be criticized for failing to take steps to prevent themselves from being biased. however. The extent of this control. Guidance control. in this sense. Non-intentionalists may respond by claiming that self-deceivers often are aware of the potentially biasing effects their desires and emotions might have and can exercise control over them. morally or otherwise. Whether self-deception is due to a character defect or not. even when they operate to form false beliefs about morally significant matters. To be morally responsible in the sense of being an appropriate target for praise or blame requires. non-intentionalist approaches may seem to remove the agent from responsibility by rendering the process by which she is self-deceived subintentional. they also lack control over being the sort of person disposed to self-deception. Mele (2001). Barnes (1997) argues that self-deceivers “can. or both. rendering them unable to curb the effects of these mechanisms. is an empirical question. I cannot be held responsible for holding that belief. Levy also argues that if self-deceivers typically lack the control necessary for moral responsibility in individual episodes of self-deception. in some circumstances. self-deceivers seem intentionally to flout their own normal standards for gathering and evaluating evidence. at least. selfdeceivers do not appear to know when or on which beliefs such mechanisms operate. particularly in matters they deem to be important. Levy (2004) has argued that non-intentional accounts of self-deception that deny the contradictory belief requirement should not suppose that self-deceivers are typically responsible. that agents have control over the actions in question. ascriptions of responsibility depend upon whether the self-deceiver has control over the biasing effects of her desires and emotions. Initially. since it is rarely the case that self-deceivers possess the requisite awareness of the biasing mechanisms operating to produce their self-deceptive belief. with effort. argues that many sources of bias are controllable and that self-deceivers can recognize and resist the influence of emotion and desire on their belief acquisition and retention. for example. Thus.

Existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Sartre. in very different ways. “undermines the whole principle of good … and corrupts conscience. Insofar as it seems plausible that in some cases self-deceivers are apt targets for censure. which is the guide of life” (“On Self-Deceit”). Baron 1988). Self-deception. circumstances. or of their own engagements. my ability to take responsibility and change are also severely restricted. At the very least. emphasizes the ways in which self-deception about one's moral character and conduct. self-deception . Selfdeception has been considered objectionable because it facilitates harm to others (Linehan 1982) and to oneself. that is. They are guilty of negligence with respect to their obligation to know the nature. what prompts this attitude? Take the case of a mother who deceives herself into believing her husband is not abusing their daughter because she can't bear the thought that he is a moral monster (Barnes 1997). they are culpable. not only facilitates vicious actions but hinders the agent's ability to change by obscuring them from view. In cases of self-deception. Understanding what obligations may be involved and breached in cases of this sort will help to clarify the circumstances in which ascriptions of responsibility are appropriate. present and future. that some overcome their self-deception seems to indicate such a capacity and thus control over ceasing to be self-deceived at least. undermines autonomy (Darwall 1988. violates authenticity (Sartre 1943). is too simple to itself be responsive to reasons. ‘self-ignorance’ driven by inordinate ‘self-love'.capable of recognizing and responding to moral and non-moral reasons sufficient for acting otherwise. Why do we blame her? Here we confront the nexus between moral responsibility for self-deception and the morality of self-deception. while sensitive and responsive to motivation. the majority of theorists have thought there to be something morally objectionable about self-deception or its consequences in many cases. By alienating us from our own principles. viewed self-deception as a threat to ‘authenticity’ insofar as self-deceivers fail to take responsibility for themselves and their engagements past. When self-deceivers induce ignorance of moral obligations. Such ignorance. Linehan (1982) argues that we have an obligation to scrutinize the beliefs that guide our actions that is proportionate to the harm to others such actions might involve. in his well-known sermon “On Self-Deceit”. the question isn't whether the biasing mechanism itself is reasons responsive but whether the mechanism governing its operation is. of likely consequences of actions. whether self-deceivers typically could recognize and respond to moral and non-moral reasons to resist the influence of their desires and emotions and instead exercise special scrutiny of the belief in question. Moreover. 5. of the particular circumstances. (Baron 1988) If I am self-deceived about actions or practices that harm others or myself.2 The Morality of Self-Deception While some instances of self-deception seem morally innocuous and others may even be thought salutary in various ways (Rorty 1994). and manifests a vicious lack of courage and self-control that undermine the capacity for compassionate action (Jenni 2003). However. claims Butler. by means of their self-deceptive beliefs. accordingly. undermines or erodes agency by reducing our capacity for self-scrutiny and change. deflationary views may suggest that the biasing mechanism. Joseph Butler. it isn't obvious that they could not. corrupts conscience (Butler 1722). likely consequences and so forth of their actions (Jenni 2003).

Collective self-deception might refer simply to a group of similarly selfdeceived individuals or to a group-entity. Collective Self-Deception Collective self-deception has received scant direct philosophical attention as compared with its individual counterpart. such as a corporation. at least. then they might reasonably be blamed for persisting in their self-deceptive beliefs when they regard matters of moral significance. self-deception also manifests certain weakness of character that dispose us to react to fear. selfdeceivers may. For these reasons. is under our control to some degree. generally assume that self-deception or. lead us to hold self-deceptive beliefs and cultivate habits of self-deception of which we are unaware and from which cannot reasonably be expected to escape on our own. self-deception would still undermine autonomy. Those finding self-deception morally objectionable.1). recognize and correct morally corrosive self-deception. these are questions that demand our continued attention. the character that disposes us to it. In view of the many potentially devastating moral problems associated with selfdeception. destructive and dangerous. In all these ways and a myriad of others. These alternatives reflect two basic perspectives social epistemologists have taken . manifest character defects. self-deception may nevertheless be morally objectionable. Our friends. If radically deflationary models of self-deception do turn out to imply that our own desires and emotions. that self-deception still poses a serious worry even if one cannot avoid entering into it. With the help of such friends. that is self-deceived. however. how entrenched it is (Is it episodic or habitual?). obscure us from our moral engagements and the like. consequences or engagements. or the desire for pleasure in ways that bias our belief acquisition and retention in ways that serve these emotions and desires rather than accuracy. and. Evaluating self-deception and its consequences for ourselves and others is a difficult task. in collusion with social pressures toward bias. It requires. jury or the like. But even if agents don't bear specific responsibility for their being in that state. since they may not share our desires or emotions. anxiety. with luck. since self-deceivers may nevertheless have an obligation to overcome it. what ends the self-deception serves (Does it serve mental health or as a cover for moral wrongdoing?). philosophers have found some selfdeception objectionable in itself or for the consequences it has on our ability to shape our lives.may also threaten moral integrity (Jenni 2003). Rorty (1994) emphasizes the importance of the company we keep. among other things: determining the degree of control self-deceivers have. Furthermore. It should be noted. Such epistemic cowardice and lack of self-control may inhibit the ability of selfdeceivers to stand by or apply moral principles they hold by biasing their beliefs regarding particular circumstances. committee. or by obscuring the principles themselves. whether it is escapable (What means of correction are available to the self-deceiver?). 6. what the self-deception is about (Is it important morally or otherwise?). are often in a better position to recognize our self-deception than we are. If exiting self-deception is under the guidance control of self-deceivers. This assumption need not entail that self-deception is intentional only that it is avoidable in the sense that selfdeceivers could recognize and respond to reasons for resisting bias by exercising special scrutiny (see section 5.

the social . saying NASA believed the O-rings on the space shuttle's booster rockets to be safe need not imply that most or all the members of this organizations personally held this belief only that the institution itself did. being abetted by the self-deceptive efforts of others within the group. The following sections offer an overview of these forms of collective self-deception. may well express attitudes that diverge from individual members. Collective self-deception is distinct from other forms of collective false belief—such as might result from deception or lack of evidence—insofar as the false belief issues from the agents' own selfdeceptive mechanisms (however these are construed). considers attitudes attributed to groups to be nothing more than metaphors expressing the sum of the attitudes held by their members. such attributions might be understood non-summatively as applying to collective entities. apt targets for attributions of propositional attitudes. not the absence of evidence to the contrary or presence of misinformation. collective self-deception may be understood in either a summative or non-summative sense. varying according to the account of self-deception followed. not simply the individuals comprising it. These so-called ‘plural subjects’ (Gilbert 1989. In the case of collective self-deception. the individuals constituting the group would not hold the false belief if their vision weren't distorted by their attitudes (desire. emotions.on ascriptions of propositional attitudes to collectives.1 Summative Collective Self-Deception: Self-Deception Across a Collective Understood summatively. or intentions (depending upon the account of self-deception) favoring that belief. then. anxiety. and potentially of moral and epistemic censure as well. being wittingly or unwittingly supported by one's associates (See Ruddick 1988). then. Virtually all self-deception has a social component. 1994. 2005) or ‘social integrates’ (Pettit 2003). themselves ontologically distinct from the members upon which they depend. We might call this selfdeception across a collective. we might define collective self-deception as the holding of a false belief in the face of evidence to the contrary by a group of people as a result of shared desires. Compared to its solitary counterpart. On the other hand. such attributions might be taken summatively as simply an indirect way of attributing those states to members of the collective (Quinton 1975/1976). the subject of collective self-deception is the collective itself. This summative understanding. however. fear or the like) toward the belief. The non-summative understanding. considers collectives to be. self-deception within a collective is both easier to foster and more difficult to escape. In the non-summative sense. Accordingly. noting the significant challenges posed by each. In the summative sense. For instance. To say that students think tuition is too high is just a way of saying that most students think so. while supervening upon the individuals comprising them. that it occurs within a group that shares both the attitudes bringing about the false belief and the false belief itself. On the one hand. namely. Following this distinction. 6. like persons. who each come to hold the self-deceptive belief for similar reasons and by similar means. What distinguishes collective self-deception from solitary selfdeception just is its social context. collective self-deception refers to self-deceptive belief shared by a group of individuals.

For example. There are. Ruddick (1988) calls this ‘joint self-deception. they become entrenched and their consequences. that our own consumption habits are unconnected to these sufferings anyway. Goleman 1989). as well as protection from evidence that would destabilize the target belief. attending only to evidence supporting full recovery and discounting or ignoring altogether the ample evidence to the contrary. even that our minimal efforts at conscientious consumption are an adequate remedy (See. Determining the how superable this challenge is will affect our assessment of individual responsibility for self-deception as well as the prospects of unassisted escape from it. Despite our being at least generally aware of these social and environmental ramifications of our consumptive practices.dimension comes to the fore. When self-deceptive beliefs such as these are held collectively. Caring for her as I do. and is for this reason more entrenched. however. are magnified (Surbey 2004). we share a number of self-deceptive beliefs regarding our consumption patterns. then we have a case of false belief. The collective entrenches self-deceptive beliefs by providing positive reinforcement by others sharing the same false belief. the collective variety does present greater external obstacles to avoiding or escaping self-deception. even within a collective a person is self-deceived just in case she would not hold her false belief if she did not possess the motivations skewing her belief formation process. albeit on a very small scale. not self-deception. Thus. We are collectively or mutually self-deceived. then these social factors pose an external challenge to the self-deceiver's control. good or bad. Many of the goods we consume are produced by people enduring labor conditions we do not find acceptable and in ways that we recognize are environmentally destructive and likely unsustainable. If the environment becomes so epistemically contaminated as to make counter-evidence inaccessible to the agent. that the suffering caused by the exploitive and ecologically degrading practices are overblown.’ On a larger-scale. If the various proposed psychological mechanisms of self-deception pose an internal challenge to the self-deceiver's power to control her belief formation. The social support cannot be the sole or primary cause of the self-deceptive belief. relative to solitary self-deception. limits to how entrenched such beliefs can become and remain selfdeceptive.2 Non-summative Collective Self-Deception: Self-Deception of a Collective Entity . my cancer stricken friend might selfdeceptively believe her prognosis to be quite good. Faced with the fearful prospect of death. I unwittingly support my friend's self-deceptive belief and she mine—our self-deceptions are mutually reinforcing. since each member of the collective unwittingly helps to sustain the self-deceptive belief of the others in the group. sharing common attitudes. For example. This said. she does not form accurate beliefs regarding the probability of her full recovery. and as a consequence I form the same self-deceptive belief via the same mechanisms. fears and desires that sustain my friend's self-deceptive belief. In such a case. for then the belief would simply be the result of unwitting interpersonal deception and not the deviant belief formation process that characterizes self-deception. I share many of the anxieties. we hold the overly optimistic beliefs that the world will be fine. 6. that its peril is overstated. large segments of a society might deceive themselves together.

a collective commitment by members of a corporation to maximizing profits might lead members to form false beliefs about the ethical propriety of the corporation's practices. however. Robert Trivers (2000) suggests that ‘organizational self-deception’ led to NASA's failure to represent accurately the risks posed by the space shuttle's O-ring design. A corporate board. . as an organization. Such commitment need not entail that each individual board member personally endorses such beliefs. Within the institution. generally speaking. They argue that such self-deceptive mechanisms must be recognized and actively resisted at the organizational level if unethical behavior is to be avoided. NASA. this information was relegated “to portions of … the organization that [were] inaccessible to consciousness (we can think of the people running NASA as the conscious part of the organization). For example. Collective self-deceit may also play a significant role in facilitating unethical practices by corporate entities. self-deceptively believed the risks posed by O-ring damage were minimal. While philosophically precise accounts of non-summative self-deception remain largely unarticulated. might be jointly committed as a body to believe. we can say that the group is collectively self-deceived in a non-summative sense. a failure that eventually led to the Challenger disaster. More specifically. a group can be said to believe. there were a number of individuals who did not share this belief. Gilbert (2005) suggests that such a commitment might lead executives and other members to “simply lose sight of moral constraints and values they previously held”. NASA's Safety Unit mishandled and misrepresented data it possessed that suggested that under certain temperature conditions the shuttle's O-rings were not safe. desire. only that as members of the board they do (Gilbert 2005). value and strive for whatever the CEO recommends. collectively held values created a climate within NASA that clouded its vision of the data and led to its endorsement of a fatally false belief. As a consequence. he argues. Tenbrunsel and Messick (2004) argue that self-deceptive mechanisms play a pervasive role in what they call ‘ethical fading’. acting as a kind of ‘bleach’ that renders organizations blind to the ethical dimensions of their decisions. but both they and the evidence supporting their belief were treated in a bias manner by the decision-makers within the organization. then. had strong incentives to represent such risks as small. for instance. In view of the ramifications this sort of collective self-deception has for the way we understand corporate misconduct and responsibility. For example. Similarly. The organization as a whole. Though there are varying accounts of group belief. Gilbert (2005) contends that collectively accepting that “certain moral constraints must rein in the pursuit of corporate profits” might shift corporate culture in such a way that efforts to respect these constraints are recognized as part of being a good corporate citizen. value or the like just in case its members “jointly commit” to these things as a body (Gilbert 2005).” In this case. values or goals.Collective self-deception can also be understood from the perspective of the collective itself in a non-summative sense. When collectively held attitudes motivate a group to espouse a false belief despite the group's possession of evidence to the contrary. As Trivers (2000) puts it. understanding its specific nature in greater detail remains an important task. the possibilities mirror those of individual self-deception.

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