Canadian Journal of Philosophy 35 (3):407-427 (2005)

Julie Kirsch
D'Youville College
Life is so wretched that it would be impossible to endure were it not for the luminous beams of illusion that guide us through its darkest moments. Many argue, perhaps not to this degree, that were it not for some modest illusions about the world and ourselves we would experience a serious decline in quality of life. On those not-so-good days, this claim strikes me as irresistible. How would I endure life and maintain my sanity if I had to embrace each and every disgusting and disheartening fact about the world? Perceiving the world in a way that is neither clear-eyed nor complete may not be without its advantages. But even if being mistaken about the world or self-deceived causes one to be healthier or more comfortable, it is worth asking whether there is something to be said against a life of this kind. Might there not be some knowledge about ourselves or the world that we ought to have? Do not these ‘positive illusions,’ or flattering but inaccurate beliefs that people have about themselves and the world, interfere with their ability to live the good life? In the first part of this paper, I will briefly review the psychological literature which suggests that mild self-deception in the positive direction contributes to, rather than compromises, a person’s well-being. I will then, in the second part of the paper, examine what three thinkers, Joseph Butler, Immanuel Kant, and W.K. Clifford, have said about the wrongfulness of self-deception. While their arguments call attention to various reasons for thinking that some cases of self-deception might give rise on balance to negative consequences, they fail to show that all cases must have this effect. In the final part of the paper, I will consider whether our interest in autonomy might provide us with a better explanation of the supposed wrongfulness of self-deception. I will try to show that in virtue of being mistaken alone, the self-deceiver generally experiences some loss of a particular kind of autonomy. Nevertheless, my analysis will leave open the following two possibilities: that the loss of autonomy was autonomously brought about, and that the loss of autonomy in question may result on balance in an increase in the self-deceiver’s autonomy.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0045-5091
DOI cjphil200535328
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References found in this work BETA

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.
Self-Deception Unmasked.Alfred R. Mele - 2001 - Princeton University Press.
Well-Being. Its Meaning, Measurement and Moral Importance.James Griffin - 1990 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 52 (1):171-171.
What is Wrong with Self-Deception.Marcia Baron - 1988 - In Brian P. McLaughlin & Amelie O. Rorty (eds.), Perspectives on Self-Deception. University of California Press. pp. 431--449.

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Citations of this work BETA

Self-Deception as a Moral Failure.Jordan MacKenzie - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
Self-Deception as a Moral Failure.Jordan MacKenzie - forthcoming - The Philosophical Quarterly.

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