“Take away the life‐lie … “: Positive illusions and creative self‐deception

Philosophical Psychology 9 (4):525 – 544 (1996)
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In a well-known paper “Illusion and well-being”, Taylor and Brown maintain that positive illusions about the self play a significant role in the maintenance of mental health, as well as in the ability to maintain caring inter-personal relations and a sense of well-being. These illusions include unrealistically positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of personal control, and unrealistic optimism about one's future. Accurate self-knowledge, they maintain, is not an indispensable ingredient of mental health and well-being. Two lines of criticism are directed against the creative self-deception hypothesis, one methodological and one substantive. First, it is argued that Taylor and Brown's method of eliciting experimental subjects' self-reports and comparative self-ratings under artificial experimental conditions lacks ecological validity and phenomenological realism. Second, it is argued that positive illusions diminish the range of reactive other-regarding attitudes and emotions that people can adopt. A literary case history (Ibsen's The wild duck ) which satisfies the criteria of ecological adequacy is used to illustrate the latter point.



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David Alan Jopling
York University

Citations of this work

Irrationality, by Lisa Bortolotti (Polity Press, 2014). [REVIEW]Kevin Lynch - 2015 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 23 (4):605-609.
Useful lies: The twisted rationality of denial.Jörg Friedrichs - 2014 - Philosophical Psychology 27 (2):212-234.

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