Self-Deception Unmasked

Self-Deception Unmasked

Alfred R. Mele
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Self-Deception Unmasked
    Book Description:

    Self-deception raises complex questions about the nature of belief and the structure of the human mind. In this book, Alfred Mele addresses four of the most critical of these questions: What is it to deceive oneself? How do we deceive ourselves? Why do we deceive ourselves? Is self-deception really possible?

    Drawing on cutting-edge empirical research on everyday reasoning and biases, Mele takes issue with commonplace attempts to equate the processes of self-deception with those of stereotypical interpersonal deception. Such attempts, he demonstrates, are fundamentally misguided, particularly in the assumption that self-deception is intentional. In their place, Mele proposes a compelling, empirically informed account of the motivational causes of biased beliefs. At the heart of this theory is an appreciation of how emotion and motivation may, without our knowing it, bias our assessment of evidence for beliefs. Highlighting motivation and emotion, Mele develops a pair of approaches for explaining the two forms of self-deception: the "straight" form, in which we believe what we want to be true, and the "twisted" form, in which we believe what we wish to be false.

    Underlying Mele's work is an abiding interest in understanding and explaining the behavior of real human beings. The result is a comprehensive, elegant, empirically grounded theory of everyday self-deception that should engage philosophers and social scientists alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2397-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Introduction: Approaches, Puzzles, Biases, and Agency
    (pp. 3-24)

    “A survey of university professors found that 94% thought they were better at their jobs than their average colleague” (Gilovich 1991, p. 77). Are university professors exceptionally adept at self-deception? Perhaps not. “A survey of one million high school seniors found that . . .allstudents thought they were above average” in their “ability to get along with others . . . and 25% thought they were in the top 1%” (ibid.). One might suspect that the respondents to these surveys were not being entirely sincere in their answers. Then again, how many university professors do you know who...

  5. 2 Garden-Variety Straight Self-Deception: Some Psychological Processes
    (pp. 25-49)

    As I pointed out in Chapter I, standard examples of self-deception feature people who falsely believe—in the face of strong evidence to the contrary—things that they would like to be true: for example, that their children are not using illicit drugs, or that they themselves are healthy. Garden–variety straight self-deception is commonly regarded as a motivated phenomenon. Should it turn out that it is motivated in a way that ensures that self-deceivers start by believing that ~p and try to deceive themselves into believing that p, theorists who seek a tight fit between self-deception and stereotypical interpersonal...

  6. 3 Self-Deception without Puzzles
    (pp. 50-75)

    Analyzing self-deception is a difficult task; providing a plausible set of sufficient conditions for self-deception is less demanding. Not all cases of self-deception need involve the acquisition of a new belief. Sometimes we may be self-deceived in retaining a belief that we were not self-deceived in acquiring. Still, the primary focus in the literature has been on self-deceptive belief acquisition, and that is my focus in this book. In the present chapter, I motivate a statement of conceptually sufficient conditions for entering self-deception in acquiring a belief and I defend resolutions of the primary static and dynamic puzzles about self-deception...

  7. 4 Attempted Empirical Demonstrations of Strict Self-Deception
    (pp. 76-93)

    Some psychologists have offered alleged empirical demonstrations of self-deception, on a strict conception of the phenomenon requiring that self-deceivers (at some point) simultaneously believe that p and believe that ~p.¹ Seeing that and why influential work in this area has failed to hit its mark reinforces the position on garden-variety straight self-deception defended in the preceding two chapters. I name the alleged requirement at issue on self-deception the “dual-belief requirement.” The condition at issue—that is, simultaneously believing that p and believing that ~p—is the “dual-belief condition.”

    In a recent article (Mele 1997a), I challenge critics to provide convincing...

  8. 5 Twisted Self-Deception
    (pp. 94-118)

    In what I have called “straight” self-deception, people are self-deceived in believing something they want to be true. Philosophical and psychological work on self-deception has focused on this phenomenon. Apparently, there also is a theoretically more perplexing, if much less common, kind of self-deception—a “twisted” kind. As I mentioned in Chapter I, it might be exemplified by an insecure, jealous husband who believes that his wife is having an affair despite his possessing only relatively flimsy evidence for that proposition and despite his wanting it to be false that she is so engaged (and not also wanting it to...

  9. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 119-124)

    In this book, I have been much more concerned with explanatory questions about self-deception than with conceptual questions about it. My focus has been the explanation of self-deception. Although I have offered a collection of jointly sufficient conditions for entering self-deception in acquiring a belief that p (ch. 3), I have not offered a statement of individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for this. My primary reason for having eschewed the latter task is that, given its difficult nature and constraints on space, a proper attempt to complete it would have changed the intended focus of this book. I am...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 125-136)
  11. References
    (pp. 137-144)
  12. Index
    (pp. 145-148)