Self-Deception as Affective Coping. An Empirical Perspective on Philosophical Issues

Consciousness and Cognition 41:119-134 (2016)
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Abstract

In the philosophical literature, self-deception is mainly approached through the analysis of paradoxes. Yet, it is agreed that self-deception is motivated by protection from distress. In this paper, we argue, with the help of findings from cognitive neuroscience and psychology, that self-deception is a type of affective coping. First, we criticize the main solutions to the paradoxes of self-deception. We then present a new approach to self-deception. Self-deception, we argue, involves three appraisals of the distressing evidence: (a) appraisal of the strength of evidence as uncertain, (b) low coping potential and (c) negative anticipation along the lines of Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis. At the same time, desire impacts the treatment of flattering evidence via dopamine. Our main proposal is that self-deception involves emotional mechanisms provoking a preference for immediate reward despite possible long-term negative repercussions. In the last part, we use this emotional model to revisit the philosophical paradoxes.

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