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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V033-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosophical work on self-deception revolves around a trio of questions. What is self-deception? Is self-deception possible? How are instances of self-deception to be explained? The extent to which self-deception is analogous to interpersonal deception is controversial, partly because certain analogies threaten to render the possibility of self-deception deeply problematic. The problems concern both the mental state of self-deceived individuals at a particular time (static problems) and the dynamics of self-deception (dynamic problems). For example, in normal interpersonal deception the deceivers know something, p, or at least believe truly that p, while getting their victims to believe the opposite, ~ p. So if self-deception is strictly analogous to normal interpersonal deception, self-deceivers know or believe truly that p while getting themselves to believe that ~ p. If this entails simultaneously believing that p and believing that ~ p, self-deception may seem impossible. (For example, how can I believe that my sister will read this entry while also believing that she will not?) Moreover, even if this state is possible, the suggestion that people can get themselves into it by deceiving themselves is problematic. It may seem, for instance, that any project describable as ‘getting myself to believe what I now know to be false’ is bound to be self-defeating. Self-deception may be dynamically impossible.

Citing this article:
Mele, Alfred R.. Self-deception, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V033-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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