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Non-intentionalists respond that what distinguishes wishful thinking from self-deception is that self-deceivers recognize evidence against their self-deceptive belief whereas wishful thinkers do not Bach ; Johnston , or merely possess, without recognizing, greater counterevidence than wishful thinkers.

For wishful thinkers motivation plays triggers a belief formation process in which the person does not play an active, conscious role Scott-Kakures ; see also, Szabados While the precise relationship between wishful thinking and self-deception is clearly a matter of debate, there are plausible ways of distinguishing the two that do not invoke the intention to deceive.

Why is it, such intentionalists ask, that we are not rendered bias in favor of the belief that p in many cases where we have a very strong desire that p or anxiety or some other motivation related to p? Intentionalists argue that an intention to get oneself to acquire the belief that p offers a relatively straightforward answer to this question. Because Josh considers the cost of erroneously believing his favorite chocolate is tainted by exploitation to be very high—no other chocolate gives him the same pleasure, it takes a great deal more evidence to convince him that his chocolate is so tainted than it does to convince him otherwise.

But we can imagine Josh having the same strong desire that his chocolate not be tainted by exploitation and yet assessing the cost of falsely believing it is not tainted differently. Say, for example, he works for an organization promoting fair trade and non-exploitive labor practices among chocolate producers and believes he has an obligation to accurately represent the labor practices of the producer of his favorite chocolate and would, furthermore, lose credibility if the chocolate he himself consumes is tainted by exploitation.

In these circumstances, Josh is more sensitive to evidence that his favorite chocolate is tainted, despite his desire that it not be, since the subjective cost of being wrong is higher for him than it was before. Smith also addresses a version of the selectivity problem, proposing a way to account for the the selectivity and apparent success aptness of self-deception without resorting to intentions. Smith points out that when a mirror orchid deceives a male scolid wasp by mimicking the appearance and odor of a female scolid wasp, the deception in question can hardly be considered accidental even though the orchid lacks the capacity for intentional behavior.

Moreover, by proposing that true information is encoded in some sub-doxastic state, Smith thinks the selectivity of self-deception may also be accounted for. In this latter sense, Smith might be viewed as both a revision of intention and a revision of belief theorist more on the latter below.

For his part, Mele things self-deception may often involve tension, but it certainly need not, that is, some self-deception is tension free. While Lynch does not think tension is necessary , he accepts the idea that it is characteristic of self-deception, and can be accounted for by construing self-deception as involving an unwarranted degree of confidence that p , rather than wholehearted belief that p as Mele does.

For such critics, self-deception involves a deeper behavioral conflict. For example, Ellen says that she is doing well in her biology class, but systematically avoids looking at the results on her quizzes and tests. When her teacher tries to catch her after class to discuss her poor grades, she is rushes off.

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Similarly, when she sees an email from her teacher, she ignores it. Insofar as deflationary approaches deny people like Ellen know the truth, they fail adequately to explain her self-deception.

In either case, critics think such cases cannot adequately be explained by deflationary account. As Mele points out, anyone meeting his first condition, namely, acquiring the false belief that p could not be self-deceived on deep conflict approaches Audi , ; Gendler Moreover, deep conflict theorists need to explain why we should think one avowing that p does not also believe it, and why the behavior in question cannot be explained by nearby proxies like suspicion that p Mele It seems possible for a person to acquire a false belief that p as a consequence of treating data relevant to p in a motivationally biased way, when the data available to her provides greater warrant for p , in such a way that she retains accurate self-knowledge.

Such a person would readily admit to ignoring certain data, because it would undermine a belief she cherishes. She makes no mistakes about herself, her beliefs or her belief formation process. Such a person, Holton argues, would be willfully ignorant, but not self-deceived. Scott-Kakures contends that this sort of error is also what distinguishes self-deception from wishful thinking see above and restricts it to those capable of higher-order beliefs.

Mele , for his part, thinks adding the following sufficient condition to his account would put to rest these concerns:. Denying the Welcome Belief : Another strand of revision of belief approaches focuses on the welcome belief that p , proposing a variety of alternatives to this belief that function in ways that explain what self-deceivers typically say and do. Lazar closely resembles Gendler in taking self-deceptive beliefs to be better understood along the lines of imaginations or fantasies that directly express the self-deceivers wishes, fears, hopes and the like, since they show a relative insensitivity to evidence unlike beliefs but guide behavior like beliefs.

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In her view, the so-called doxastic problem can be resolved simply by avoiding the attribution of doxastic attitudes of any kind. While revision of belief approaches suggest a number of non-paradoxical ways of thinking about self-deception. Some worry that those approaches denying that self-deceivers hold the welcome but unwarranted belief that p eliminate what is central to the notion of self-deception, namely, deception see e.

However, those approaches focusing on higher-order beliefs locate the deception or error at the second-order level. Whatever the verdict, these revision of belief approaches suggest that our way of characterizing belief may not be fine-grained enough to account for the subtle attitudes or meta-attitudes self-deceivers bear to the proposition in question. Taken together these approaches make it clear that the question regarding what self-deceivers believe is by means resolved.

In this case, the husband apparently comes to have this false belief in the face of strong evidence to the contrary in ways similar to those ordinary self-deceivers come to believe something they want to be true. One question philosophers have sought to answer is how a single unified account of self-deception can explain both welcome and unwelcome beliefs. If a unified account is sought, then it seems self-deception cannot require that the self-deceptive belief itself be desired.

Pears has argued that unwelcome belief might be driven by fear or jealousy. My fear of my house burning down might motivate my false belief that I have left the stove burner on. This unwelcome belief serves to ensure that I avoid what I fear, since it leads me to confirm that the burner is off. Barnes argues that the unwelcome belief must serve to reduce some relevant anxiety; in this case my anxiety that my house is burning. Scott-Kakures ; argues, however, that since the unwelcome belief itself does not in many cases serve to reduce but rather to increase anxiety or fear, their reduction cannot be the purpose of that belief.

My testing and confirming an unwelcome belief may be explained by the costs I associate with being in error, which is determined in view of my relevant aims and interests. If I falsely believe that I have left the burner on, the cost is relatively low—I am inconvenienced by confirming that it is off. If I falsely believe that I have not left the burner on, the cost is extremely high—my house being destroyed by fire.


The asymmetry between these relative costs alone may account for my manipulation of evidence confirming the false belief that I have left the burner on. Drawing upon recent empirical research, both Mele and Scott-Kakures advocate a model of this sort, since it helps to account for the roles desires and emotions apparently play in cases of twisted self-deception.

Specifically, Mele refuses to identify the motivating desire as a desire that p , leaving the content of the motivation in question open. Nelkin , however, argues that the motivation for self-deceptive belief formation should be restricted to a desire to believe that p. I might want to hold the belief that I have left the burner on, but not want it to be the case that I have left it on. The belief is desirable in this instance, because holding it ensures that it will not be true. Restricting the motivating desire to a desire to believe that p , according to Nelkin, makes clear what twisted and straight self-deception have in common as well as why other forms of motivated belief formation are not cases of self-deception.

Mele argues that self-deceivers need not have the specific desire to believe that p , since a variety of other desires might well alter the acceptance thresholds such that p is believed, even a desire not to acquire a false belief that p might serve to motivate self-deceptive belief that p. Nelkin acknowledges the boundaries between cases of self-deception and other sorts of irrational motivated belief are blurry, but notes that scrutiny of the content of the motivation is necessary for adjudicating individual cases, and suggests that the nearer this content gets to the desire to believe that p the more clearly it is a case of self-deception.

Though non-intentional models of twisted self-deception dominate the landscape, whether desire, emotion or some combination of these attitudes plays the dominant role in such self-deception and whether their influence merely triggers the process or continues to guide it throughout remain matters of controversy.

Despite the fact that much of the contemporary philosophical discussion of self-deception has focused on epistemology, philosophical psychology and philosophy of mind, the morality of self-deception has been the central focus of discussion historically. As a threat to moral self-knowledge, a cover for immoral activity, and a violation of authenticity, self-deception has been thought to be morally wrong or, at least, morally dangerous.

There are two major questions regarding the morality of self-deception: First, can a person be held morally responsible for self-deception and if so under what conditions? Second, is there is anything morally problematic with self-deception, and if so, what and under what circumstances? The answers to these questions are clearly intertwined. If self-deceivers cannot be held responsible for self-deception, then their responsibility for whatever morally objectionable consequences it might have will be mitigated if not eliminated. Nevertheless, self-deception might be morally significant even if one cannot be taxed for entering into it.

Whether self-deceivers can be held responsible for their self-deception is largely a question of whether they have the requisite control over the acquisition and maintenance of their self-deceptive belief. In general, intentionalists hold that self-deceivers are responsible, since they intend to acquire the self-deceptive belief, usually recognizing the evidence to the contrary.

Even when the intention is indirect, such as when one intentionally seeks evidence in favor of p or avoids collecting or examining evidence to the contrary, self-deceivers seem intentionally to flout their own normal standards for gathering and evaluating evidence. So, minimally, they are responsible for such actions and omissions. Initially, non-intentionalist approaches may seem to remove the agent from responsibility by rendering the process by which she is self-deceived subintentional.

If my anxiety, fear, or desire triggers a process that ineluctably leads me to hold the self-deceptive belief, I cannot be held responsible for holding that belief. How can I be held responsible for processes that operate without my knowledge and which are set in motion without my intention?

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Most non-intentionalist accounts, however, do allow for the possibility that self-deceivers are responsible for individual episodes of self-deception, or for the vices of cowardice and lack of self-control from which they spring, or both. To be morally responsible in the sense of being an appropriate target for praise or blame requires, at least, that agents have control over the actions in question. Mele , for example, argues that many sources of bias are controllable and that self-deceivers can recognize and resist the influence of emotion and desire on their belief acquisition and retention, particularly in matters they deem to be important, morally or otherwise.

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The extent of this control, however, is an empirical question. Other non-intentionalists take self-deceivers to be responsible for certain epistemic vices such as cowardice in the face of fear or anxiety and lack of self-control with respect the biasing influences of desire and emotion.

Whether self-deception is due to a character defect or not, ascriptions of responsibility depend upon whether the self-deceiver has control over the biasing effects of her desires and emotions. Levy has argued that non-intentional accounts of self-deception that deny the contradictory belief requirement should not suppose that self-deceivers are typically responsible, since it is rarely the case that self-deceivers possess the requisite awareness of the biasing mechanisms operating to produce their self-deceptive belief.

Lacking such awareness, self-deceivers do not appear to know when or on which beliefs such mechanisms operate, rendering them unable to curb the effects of these mechanisms, even when they operate to form false beliefs about morally significant matters. Levy also argues that if self-deceivers typically lack the control necessary for moral responsibility in individual episodes of self-deception, they also lack control over being the sort of person disposed to self-deception.

Non-intentionalists may respond by claiming that self-deceivers often are aware of the potentially biasing effects their desires and emotions might have and can exercise control over them DeWeese-Boyd They might also challenge the idea the self-deceivers must be aware in the ways Levy suggests. One well known account of control, employed by Levy, holds that a person is responsible just in case she acts on a mechanism that is moderately responsive to reasons including moral reasons , such that were she to possess such reasons this same mechanism would act upon those reasons in at least one possible world Fischer and Ravizza Guidance control, in this sense, requires that the mechanism in question be capable of recognizing and responding to moral and non-moral reasons sufficient for acting otherwise.

In cases of self-deception, deflationary views may suggest that the biasing mechanism, while sensitive and responsive to motivation, is too simple to itself be responsive to reasons. According to Nelkin , expecting self-deceivers to have such a capacity is more likely if we understand the desire driving their bias a desire to believe that p , since awareness of this sort of desire would make it easier to guard against its influence on the process of determining whether p.

In view of these considerations, it is plausible that self-deceivers have the requisite control for moral responsibility on deflationary approaches, and certainly not obvious that they lack it. Insofar as it seems plausible that in some cases self-deceivers are apt targets for censure, what prompts this attitude? Why do we blame her? Here we confront the nexus between moral responsibility for self-deception and the morality of self-deception.

Understanding what obligations may be involved and breached in cases of this sort will help to clarify the circumstances in which ascriptions of responsibility are appropriate. While some instances of self-deception seem morally innocuous and others may even be thought salutary in various ways Rorty , the majority of theorists have thought there to be something morally objectionable about self-deception or its consequences in many cases.

Linehan argues that we have an obligation to scrutinize the beliefs that guide our actions that is proportionate to the harm to others such actions might involve. When self-deceivers induce ignorance of moral obligations, of the particular circumstances, of likely consequences of actions, or of their own engagements, by means of their self-deceptive beliefs, they may be culpable. They are guilty of negligence with respect to their obligation to know the nature, circumstances, likely consequences and so forth of their actions Jenni ; see also Nelkin Self-deception, accordingly, undermines or erodes agency by reducing our capacity for self-scrutiny and change.


Baron If I am self-deceived about actions or practices that harm others or myself, my ability to take responsibility and change are also severely restricted. By alienating us from our own principles, self-deception may also threaten moral integrity Jenni Furthermore, self-deception also manifests certain weakness of character that dispose us to react to fear, anxiety, or the desire for pleasure in ways that bias our belief acquisition and retention in ways that serve these emotions and desires rather than accuracy. Such epistemic cowardice and lack of self-control may inhibit the ability of self-deceivers to stand by or apply moral principles they hold by biasing their beliefs regarding particular circumstances, consequences or engagements, or by obscuring the principles themselves.

In all these ways and a myriad of others, philosophers have found some self-deception objectionable in itself or for the consequences it has on our ability to shape our lives. Those finding self-deception morally objectionable generally assume that self-deception or, at least, the character that disposes us to it, is under our control to some degree.