On the “tension” inherent in self-deception

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Abstract:

Alfred Mele's deflationary account of self-deception has frequently been criticised for being unable to explain the “tension” inherent in self-deception. These critics maintain that rival theories can better account for this tension, such as theories which suppose self-deceivers to have contradictory beliefs. However, there are two ways in which the tension idea has been understood. In this article, it is argued that on one such understanding, Mele's deflationism can account for this tension better than its rivals, but only if we reconceptualize the self-deceiver's attitude in terms of unwarranted degrees of conviction rather than unwarranted belief. This new way of viewing the self-deceiver's attitude will be informed by observations on experimental work done on the biasing influence of desire on belief, which suggests that self-deceivers don’t manage to fully convince themselves of what they want to be true. On another way in which this tension has been understood, this account would not manage so well, since on this understanding the self-deceiver is best interpreted as knowing, but wishing to avoid, the truth. However, it is argued that we are under no obligation to account for this since it is a characteristic of a different phenomenon than self-deception, namely, escapism.
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