The Analysis of Self-Deception: Rehabilitating the Traditionalist Account

Dissertation, Auckland (2018)
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Abstract

Traditionalists affirm that in self-deception I intend to deceive myself; but, on the standard account of interpersonal deception, according to which deceiver intend to make their target believe a falsehood, traditionalism generates paradoxes, arising from the fact that I will surely know that I want to make myself believe a falsehood. In this thesis, I argue that these well-known paradoxes need not arise under my manipulativist account of deception. In particular, I defend traditionalism about self-deception by showing that what causes paradoxes is not the idea that self-deception is an intrapersonal analogue of interpersonal deception but rather our incorrect conceptions of deception, interpersonal deception, and lying. I show, by way of counterexamples, that the essence of deception is not ending up epistemically worse off but rather being intentionally manipulated into forming or retaining a certain truth-evaluable mental state. Vitally, contra the standard view, the deceiver need not hold that the mental state he intends to produce in the deceived involves a falsehood; in fact, the targeted effect may involve a proposition believed by the deceiver to be true or about whose truth the deceiver suspends belief. Any phenomenon rightly called self-deception, I argue, involves an action in which the person intentionally manipulates (by way of a trick) her own way of forming or retaining some truth-evaluable mental state of her own (belief or a belief-like thought). Thus, on the manipulativist view, a self-deceiver may non-paradoxically intend to deceive himself: the relevant intention is to affect a particular truth-evaluable thought by way of non-deviantly manipulating his agential use of his own cognitive capacities. While all cases of self-deception involve intentional manipulation of the self by the self, how this manipulative trick works out varies in different kinds of cases. In some cases, the self-deceptive manipulative trick is not intentional under that description, a description that captures the so-called deflationary view. Although the manipulativist account allows for numerous different strategies of self-deception, and is consistent with both traditionalism and deflationism, it cannot, by itself, vindicate the idea of lying to oneself. On the standard conception, lying to myself is practically impossible (if the mind is not partitioned) and this is because the very forming the intention to lie to myself – as including the intention to make myself believe my own lie – seems very unlikely. Arguably, people will not φ if they think that φ-ing is impossible. I argue that some kinds of behaviour typically understood as self-deception are actually cases in which the person is lying to herself without the intention to deceive herself; rather, she avoids legitimising an unfavourable state of affairs by openly affirming its contrary. It may also be the case, however, that some lies to oneself are aimed at deceiving – this is because, as I argue, liars need not assert what they believe is false; hence, by lying to myself, I may intend to increase my confidence in the belief I already hold. Finally, the motive for self-deception is always a matter of preserving the person’s endorsed idealised picture of reality. This account allows me to explain all possible cases of self-deception. In the last chapter, I apply my theory to some paradigmatic cases first outlined in my introduction.

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Vladimir Krstic
United Arab Emirates University

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