Brian P. McLaughlin and Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (eds.), Perspectives on

                Self-deception (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), vi + 558 pp.




As philosophical topics go, self-deception has something for everyone. It raises basic questions about the nature of belief and the relation of belief to thought, desire, and the will. It provokes further questions on such topics as reasoning, attention, self-knowledge, the unity of the self, intentional action, motivation, self-esteem, psychic defenses, the unconscious, personal character, and interpersonal relations. There are two basic questions about self-deception itself, which each take a familiar philosophical form: What is it? How is it possible? These questions have both an analytic and a psychological side. Is self-deception, as its name suggests, literally a case of lying to oneself? If not, how different can it be from other-deception and still deserve its name? Psychologically, what processes does self-deception involve and how is it motivated?

                There is an implicit consensus among this volume’s contributors, despite their diverse positions, that the analytic and the psychological issues are inseparable. This seems right, for unless one takes the skeptical position, which no contributor adopts, that there is really no such thing as self-deception, one will want a model that is psychologically realistic and an analysis of the notion that fits the model. An analysis of self-deception should be constrained by the data, as given by a rich range of intuitively acceptable examples and, for that matter, by a rich range of unacceptable ones (self-deception is distinct from such other psychological phenomena as belief perseverance, dogmatism, wishful thinking, denial, and repression). And insofar as the meaning of “self-deception” is a function of the meanings of “self” and of “deception,” an analysis cannot be oblivious to the meanings of the words making up the phrase. Now there are different ways in which the word “self” can make its contribution, not all of which are operative. For example, as Brian McLaughlin argues (pp. 39-45)[1], not just any way of causing oneself to be deceived counts as self-deception. Similarly, self-deception need not be deception about oneself, contrary to what several contributors assume. The occurrence of “self” in the phrase implies, rather, that one is both agent and victim. But exactly how?

                To review a hefty anthology on such a subject you have to pick and choose. So I’ll be picky and choosy. The complexities of self-deception are richly illustrated by a gold mine of examples, including the fascinating literary ones discussed by Bas van Fraassen, Martha Nussbaum, Margret Kohlenbach, and Rütiger Bittner, which are too involved to take up here. To discuss the many papers on the social and the moral dimensions of self-deception would take us too far afield (several will be briefly noted). I will focus on the papers that take up the more fundamental questions about self-deception: what is it, how is it possible, and what does it involve psychologically? These papers address several of the topics mentioned above, including intention and motivation, the relation between thinking and believing, and the roles of reasoning or, more accurately, rationalization and of other cognitive factors in self-deception.



A rich old man thinks his young mistress loves him, a frustrated careerist thinks his talents are too subtle to be appreciated by his bosses, an alcoholic thinks he takes but “a little nip now and then.” The self-deceiver in each case thinks something contrary to what he believes (“deep down”) or at least against the weight of the evidence. Although we tend to regard self-deceivers like these as somehow aware (“at some level”) of what they’re doing, indeed as somehow doing it intentionally, perhaps this is only because what they are doing is so obvious to us. For what could the self-deceiver’s intention be, such that he could keep it in mind and still manage to execute it? McLaughlin argues that although one can intentionally mislead oneself, as in what he calls “self-induced deception,” which typically involves a “memory-exploiting strategem,” this is different from self-deception properly so-called and is neither necessary nor sufficient for the latter (pp. 39-44, 53-5). Mark Johnston argues similarly against the “time-lag theory” of self-deception (pp. 76-8) and other views of it as intentionally causing oneself to be deceived, now or later. If self-deception were intentional, it would involve practical reasoning, but that seems far-fetched. It is not like Pascal’s wager or calculated “positive thinking’” (p. 69), which do involve deliberate scheming. But to deny that self-deception is intentional is not to deny that it is motivated. Johnston warns against the tendency of theorists to “over-rationalize mental processes that are purposive but not intentional” (p. 65) and offers several convincing examples of motivated yet unintentional action (pp. 86-7).[2]

                Some theorists, seeing the error in viewing self-deception as straightforwardly intentional, compound the error by insisting on intentionality anyway, within a homuncular model. The idea, of course, is to dissociate the victim from the intending agent. Johnston does not dwell on the implausibility of the model (it strikes me as at best a confused version of a modularity thesis and at worst a reification of facts about inaccessible states).[3] Instead he argues against the homuncularist ploy by showing that if self-deception really were a matter of one sub-person deceiving another, its motivation would be a mystery. For even if there were identifiable sub-persons of the required sorts—culprit and victim—why should one’s deceiving the other even be relevant to the person’s being deceived? Moreover, we can grant that "as a result of his own activity [the self-deceiver] gets into a state in which he is misled, at least at the level of conscious belief" without accepting the presupposition, which generates the paradox of self-deception, that this is the "reflexive case of lying" (p. 65). As Johnston makes clear, the homuncular model, which drops the reflexive condition but still assumes that self-deception is intentional, just replaces one set of problems with another. By insisting that self-deception is intentional, homuncularists "massively over-rationalize a more primitive phenomenon" (p. 73), a "nonaccidental [but] nonrational connection between desire and belief—a mental tropism or purpose-serving mechanism" (p. 67). And, as McLaughlin observes, one can intentionally act and act on a motive without intentionally acting on that motive (p. 55).

                As I see it, the massive over-rationalization that Johnston speaks of—on the part of theorists, not self-deceivers—stems from a levels confusion of the kind endemic to philosophy: both psychologically implausible and viciously regressive. Lewis Carroll (1895) showed what happens if it is supposed that for the conclusion of an inference to follow from the premises, the principle that licenses the inference must be included among the premises. The psychological mistake here is to suppose that valid reasoning must include thinking of the principles that validate it. A modern version of the same confusion concerns rule-following. It is sometimes thought that to follow a rule requires being aware of or explicitly representing the rule. Robert Cummins has exposed the regress this view leads to (1983, pp. 44-51). He explains, using an analogy with computers and their programs, how rules can be wired in, thereby represented in the system without being represented by the system.[4] Johnston, to clinch his point that self-deception need not be intentional, identifies a similar levels confusion and argues that a vicious regress would result from the supposition that all motivated action is intentional. Here he appeals to an analogy with the threatened regress involving rule-following: “one must at some point respond appropriately to representations without interpreting them in terms of further representations” (p. 88). A related levels confusion, it seems to me, is to suppose that the self-deceiver has second-order awareness of his unpleasant belief and of its conflict with how he would like things to be and that he deliberately intervenes to mitigate this conflict. If that were so, then to resolve the conflict would require adopting the incoherent strategy of getting things in mind in order to get them out of mind. No wonder theorists are tempted to invoke a sub-person, be it a censor, the unconscious, or a homunculus, to do the trick.

                One might ask why, if self-deception though motivated is not intentional, do we often regard it as blameworthy and hold people responsible for it? The simple answer, it seems, is that self-deceivers are responsible to the extent that they are intellectually and in some cases even morally negligent, and that negligence can be blameworthy without being intentional. This negligence isn’t simple carelessness but what Stephen Darwall calls “motivated carelessness” (p. 423). Perhaps out of cowardice or even “corruption of conscience” (p. 416), self-deceivers pay insufficient attention to available evidence and to sources of further evidence, and they overlook this very fact, even though they are in a position, were they to reflect sufficiently, to appreciate it. As with negligence generally, lack of intentionality is no excuse.[5]



Much of the mystery surrounding self-deception is lifted once we abandon the assumption that the self-deceiver must be acting intentionally to be acting purposefully and to be responsible for what he is doing. But what is he doing? What does he accomplish and how does he manage to accomplish it? The question of means—rationalization and other ploys—will be taken up later, but as for ends, in typical cases the self-deceiver wants to avoid facing up to some unpleasant and lingering truth that he accepts. If there is an orthodox view of what this involves, it is that he gets himself to form a contrary belief. He does not change his mind, in the sense of replacing one belief with a contrary belief, but adds the contrary belief to his stock of beliefs. And he forms this belief without having adequate (by his own standards) evidence for it, while the original belief retains its epistemic support. No wonder paradox looms, for the orthodox view has it that the self-deceiver incoherently intends to form a belief that conflicts with another belief that he does not abandon. Some philosophers have tried to avoid paradox by claiming that the two beliefs are segregated, each belonging to a different sub-person or perhaps one confined to the unconscious, but that produces mysteries of its own.

                Georges Rey argues that the orthodox way of looking at self-deception is incorrect. He and I have long agreed on that, but we have never quite agreed on how to correct it. We agree on this much, that the upshot of self-deception is, as far as one’s ongoing thinking is concerned, the functional equivalent of giving up or replacing the unpleasant belief. That is, whereas a belief about something normally causes one to think the very thing one believes, this is not what happens in self-deception. Rey disputes my account of this (Bach 1981), but he uses it as a springboard for his own. On my view, rather than adopt a new, contrary belief (as on the orthodox view), what the self-deceiver does is keep himself, at least on a sustained and recurrent basis, from thinking what he believes. No contrary belief is needed to suppress or inhibit the effect that the unpleasant belief normally has on his thinking, although the self-deceiver may need to clutter his mind with reasons against the unpleasant belief and with thoughts to the contrary. Rey thinks I’m “on the right track” (p. 272),[6] but insists that the self-deceiver does hold a pair of contradictory beliefs. He departs from the orthodox view by cleverly proposing that these beliefs are of two different kinds, which play distinct sorts of computational role. The unpleasant belief is a “central belief” and the self-deceptive belief is an “avowed belief.”

                What is the difference? A central belief is a functional state that tends to play a certain role in reasoning. Avowed belief is, as the name suggests, what one admits to believing. Ordinarily, what one centrally believes and what one avowedly believes are the same, but in special cases like self-deception the two can pull apart. Now Rey is not claiming that self-deception is a matter of getting oneself to believe that one does not hold the unpleasant belief and that one holds some contrary belief instead. That is, holding an avowed belief contrary to a central belief does not require, though it may involve, a disavowing second-order belief. Indeed, Rey rejects “any account [of self-deception] in terms of nested attitudes” (p. 271). An avowed belief is merely a first-order belief contrary to some central belief. At times, unfortunately, he gives the impression that avowal is a sort of inner speech, as when he suggests that thoughts, not just utterances, can be insincere (p. 272), but surely a thought can’t literally be insincere. So I take it that by “avowed belief” Rey does not mean a speech act but a mental endorsement. It is, to use Darwall‘s apt phrase (p. 412), “thinking with the assertion stroke,” thinking that p as opposed to the broader notion of thinking of p (Bach 1981, pp. 354-5 and McLaughlin, p. 48), which can include rejecting or just entertaining it as well as accepting it. The self-deceiver’s “avowed belief” that p is his thought that p and what he would sincerely avow to others as his belief, but not what he centrally believes. In Rey’s view this is what we mean when we describe a self-deceiver as refusing to admit or to face up to something; we are referring not just to what he is willing to say but to what he is willing to think.

                The obvious objection to Rey’s view is that there just aren’t two kinds of belief. Avowed belief is no more a kind of belief than a putative fact is a kind of fact. People don’t always believe what they sincerely avow; a belief does not have to be possessed to be sincerely expressed. So it seems that Rey’s two labels (“central” and “avowed”) point merely to two different roles both normally played by beliefs: to enter into reasoning, and to be avowed. Sometimes these roles pull apart, as in self-deception and in many of the experimental situations Rey cites; sometimes there is a conflict between the verbal and explanatory bases we have for attributing a belief to someone. But Rey contends that two different states are involved here, and that both deserve to be counted as beliefs. Maybe two different states are involved—that is an emprical question—but I am not persuaded that both are beliefs. For, although Rey suggests that the state underlying a sincere avowal is “constitutive” of belief (p. 280), if this were so then sincere avowals couldn’t be mistaken. Any sincere avowal would automatically be correct by virtue of being caused by a state with its very content. Besides,  when people acknowledge mistakes about their own beliefs, as in the very experiments Rey cites, they are talking about states that play a multifarious role in their reasoning and behavior, not states whose sole role is to cause avowals. Fortunately, I don’t think Rey really needs his distinction between the two kinds of belief to justify his interesting computational account of the competing functional roles of the states involved in self-deception and in other phenomena.

                Avowal also plays a role in Robert Audi’s account of self-deception. Distinguishing the state of being self-deceived from the act of deceiving oneself,[7] Audi claims that someone who is self-deceived that p must sincerely avow, or at least be disposed to sincerely avow, that p (p. 94). But this condition, though generally met, does not seem necessary, especially given Audi’s requirement that the self-deceiver unconsciously know (or at least believe) that not-p. For given that condition, it would be enough that the self-deceiver be disposed to disavow his belief that not-p. In any case, what is more to the point than this disposition is the underlying state that gives rise to it.[8]

                McLaughlin agrees with Audi that self-deception involves an unconscious or, as he calls it, an “inaccessible” belief (pp. 48-53). However, this unconscious/inaccessible belief requirement needs an important qualification, as is suggested by an astute observation made by Allen Wood. In contrasting self-deception with ideological thinking, which is also blind and riddled with rationalization, Wood points out that in cases of self-deception “the psychically upsetting awareness is dangerously close at hand” (p. 359). This also distinguishes self-deception from trauma-induced repression. So the above requirement must be qualified to say that the suppressed belief can’t be “too” unconscious or inaccessible. That is, being self-deceived requires that the suppressed belief threaten to become conscious or at least have so threatened when the process of self-deception began. I am not certain just how to formulate this qualification on the requirement—it wouldn’t do, for example, to appeal to something as metaphorical as the distinction between a state’s being “near the surface” rather than “deep in one’s unconscious”—but some such qualification must be included, at least if the unconscious/inaccessible belief requirement on self-deception must be imposed.[9]

                 Making such a qualification would answer Edward Erwin’s objection to the “standard analyses” of self-deception, which, he argues, are undermined by cases from the psychoanalytic literature (pp. 232-9). Erwin does not endorse the psychoanalytic accounts of these cases but contends that their mere conceptual possibilility is enough to undermine standard analyses. He vividly describes assorted sordid examples, each of which involves a deeply repressed state motivating the apparent self-deception. Erwin puts them forth as counterexamples to Audi’s, mine, and various earlier analyses.[10] However, although these are all cases in which the person comes up with unconvincing rationalizations—they surely are cases of motivated irrationality—they do not seem to qualify as instances of self-deception: in each case the unconscious or inaccessible state is (and has been) too deeply repressed for the subject to be genuinely self-deceived with respect to it. So if a necessary condition for being self-deceived is that the unpleasant belief be unconscious or at least inaccessible, Erwin’s examples unwittingly teach us that this condition needs a causal constraint, one that excludes repression as the cause of the belief’s being unconscious.



If being self-deceived involves a disposition not to think what one believes (or what one takes there to be strong evidence for), what does it take to exercise that disposition? That is, what keeps one from thinking the nasty thought about the touchy subject and leads one to think other thoughts in its place? There is a consensus among the contributors who consider this question that the primary method is rationalization, the fabrication of plausible but phoney reasons or motives. Rationalization is not necessary for self-deception (some contributors seem to assume that it is), but it surely plays a pivotal role. It can either get one into the state of being self-deceived or, when the touchy subject comes up, keep one in that state. Though rationalization will be our focus here, it is not the only means for keeping a nasty thought from occurring or for stopping it when it does occur. McLaughlin and Johnston agree that this can be accomplished by either by evasion or by “overcompensation.” The latter, which I prefer to call “jamming” (Bach 1981, pp. 361-2), because of the radio/radar analogy, clutters one’s mind with thoughts contrary to the unpleasant belief or contrary to evidence one has in support of that belief (jamming is where Rey’s “avowed beliefs” come into play). Evasion is simply a matter of keeping one’s attention off the touchy subject by focussing it elsewhere.[11] Amélie Rorty perceptively explains how these processes can be facilitated by “magnetized attitudes” and “habits of attention” (pp. 17-18).

                Audi offers some interesting ideas about how rationalization, with its uncanny ability to operate against the weight of the evidence, ties in to self-deception. The connection goes both ways: self-deception can lead to rationalization, and rationalization that is initially not self-deceptive can lead to self-deception.[12] In both cases Audi distinguishes three variables: the occasions favorable to the process, the agent’s threshold for engaging in it, and the measures of its success. For example, the agent’s threshold of proceeding from rationalization to self-deception on occasions favorable to it is lower in proportion to the strength of his desires or needs as well as to the extent that he can rationalize convincingly, evade systematic exploration of his own thoughts and behavior, marshal favorable information, and focus his attention accordingly (p. 105). As for the measure of success in self-deception produced by rationalization, Audi distinguishes such interesting parameters as “accessibility, entrenchment, resilience, stratification, systematization, and integration” (pp. 106-7), which all make reference to broader aspects of the self-deceiver’s cognitive and motivational psychology.

                David Sanford argues that what is important is not whether one has the reason one thinks one has but whether one believes (or wants, feels, or acts) for that reason. According to Sanford, self-deception typically involves “mistakes about one’s own desire structure” (p. 159) or “false beliefs about relations between one’s attitudes” (p. 162), such as beliefs that “reverse the true direction of dependence.” Although it is true, as Bas van Fraassen points out, that self-deception is often motivated to make sure “motives lie hidden from our scrutiny” (p. 132), often, as Adrian Piper aptly puts it, “to avoid the humiliation of self-discovery” (p. 318), I think Sanford is exaggerating if he is claiming that all self-deception involves misapprehension of one’s attitude structures. For there are lots of other things to deceive oneself about besides oneself. I’ll give Sanford this, though, that self-deception about one’s attitudes can surely aid and abet self-deception about anything else.

                The rationalization in self-deception often involves the help of other people. As William Ruddick points out, others can enable the self-deceiver to “believe his own false advertising” (p. 381) and “to dismiss evidence, not just linguistically launder it” (p. 386). We may this easy for them when we exercise “evasive, as well as persuasive, linguistic skills,” such as using socially sanctioned jargon or euphemism to discourage others from making us face up to what makes us too anxious to face up to (p. 383). Stephen Darwall mentions other socially-oriented skills and techniques that further self-deception. For example, citing Erving Goffman’s work he points out how the image one presents to others can, by its public acceptance, help mold one’s self-image. Also, it is convenient that when we are found out, our ruses often go unexposed, insofar as others “play along than risk embarrassment, personal hurt, or … shaking the current social order” (p. 413). Collusion is the next best thing to co-illusion.



Related to rationalization is the epistemological side of self-deception. Van Fraassen’s convoluted scenarios raise the question of how one can ever manage to detect or, for that matter, rule out self-deception in oneself. For when the story is one’s own, as in his amazing flights of self-reflexive fantasy, “protagonist, narrator, reader, writer and critic are all one and the same. Where shall I stand, when the text of my life deconstructs itself at every turn of the page?” (p. 133) Indeed, as Sanford points out, even “a sincere self-ascription of self-deception … can itself be a case of self-deception” (p. 167). But as van Fraassen reminds us, if you wonder whether you’re engaged in self-deception and begin to investigate the matter by weighing evidence and devising new hypotheses, “unfortunately, it is exactly in these processes that self-deception always finds its means” (p. 145).

                Frederick Schmitt argues that in other-deception the deceiver must be justified in what he believes and render his victim justified in what he gets him to believe. This may be so, but it strikes me as merely a verbal point. It is true only because we wouldn’t describe as deception a case in which these justification conditions were not met, and it obscures the fact that there could be the same discrepancy between the deceiver’s expressed attitude and his real attitude even when these conditions are not met. At any rate, Schmitt contends that the same justification conditions hold for self-deception, even though the culprit and the victim are one and the same. But again his claim seems merely verbal—the same psychological process can take place whether the justification conditions are met or not—but in this case his claim is less plausible. For although rationalization can give one’s thinking a semblance of justification, self-deception can also result merely from jamming or evasion, which may do no more than keep one from thinking that one’s thinking is not justified. Still, Schmitt has discovered an interesting new paradox: one can be justified in holding each of a pair of contrary beliefs. Schmitt cleverly clears the air of paradox by arguing that this is possible insofar as the self-deceiver does not have access to both of their justifications at the same time. In general, we have limited current access to the justifications of our beliefs and for good reason, given our psychological limitations. Of course, there is a special, motivated reason for this in the case of self-deception. Let me offer a suggestion as to how it gets implemented.

                It is a platitude that our attentional and cognitive resources are limited. Faced with specific problems and concerns in a given situation, we must be selective in what we consider. Obviously, we cannot spend time and effort on each thing that might come to mind just to determine that it is not worth considering. Indeed, at every moment we implicitly but effectively judge that certain things are not worth considering by considering them, either not at all or not for long. This is essential to the default reasoning that characterizes our everyday thinking (Bach 1984). Furthermore, I suggest, we each possess an arsenal of “exclusionary categories” that we apply to topics, doctrines, propositions, and persons (among other things) in order to justify not taking them into account in our thinking. Applying such a category plays the role of keeping one from considering something any further, and having applied it may keep one from considering that item at all. Here is a sample of familiar exclusionary categories: absurd, archaic, baseless, crackpot, extremist, impossible, incoherent, inconceivable, irrelevant, ludicrous, misguided, prejudiced, subversive, superstitious, trivial. For better or worse, everyone has some such categories in their repertoire. People differ as to which ones they use and in the conditions (epistemic or emotional) under which they use them. Indeed, people’s diverse habits of mind even suggest a basis for classifying different character types. For example, those who use certain of these categories to excess may be bigots or zealots. Others may, by excluding from consideration certain matters that really do need to be faced up to, may suffer from inhibitions or repressive neuroses. On the other hand, people who lack an adequate arsenal of exclusionary categories may, because they let in too much that is not worth considering, be flighty or impulsive; and those who cannot apply exclusionary categories to a specific area of personal importance may develop obsessive-compulsive neuroses. Yet despite their often misguided use, exclusionary categories commonly play a legitimate role. They help us manage our cognitive resources and protect our view of the world from radical change in the face of pressures that are more efficiently and reasonably felt as marginal. Better, at least in general, to ignore or explain away recalcitrant data than to make massive readjustments. Epistemic conservatism has its virtues (Harman 1986, pp. 46-50).

                If the use of exclusionary categories is pervasive and often justified, what is their specific role in self-deception? When applied, an exclusionary category serves to exclude something from (further) consideration, and does so justifiably, at least from the agent’s perspective. When such a category is applied unreflectively, its target can be dismissed from consideration without having to be considered any further. Thus one does not have to think about something, at least not seriously, in order to justify not thinking about it (any further). This is generally a legitimate process (Bach 1984), but in self-deception it is typically self-serving in some way. If something is too painful to consider, “to hard to deal with” as we say, one has a practical reason for not considering it. However, as McLaughlin and Johnston both show, in self-deception avoiding the touchy subject is not the result of practical reasoning. One does not reason: this is to hard to deal with; therefore, I will not deal with it. Nevertheless, given one’s anxiety about it, one is motivated not to deal with it. Efficiently finding ostensibly good reasons for not dealing with it may have precisely this effect. Or at least, if it keeps coming back to mind, one can keep trying to get rid of it by jamming, by cluttering one’s thoughts with reasons against it and alternatives to it.


                All in all, McLaughlin and Rorty have produced a terrific anthology, certainly the best and most comprehensive on the subject. Few of its contributions are uninspired, though it must be said that many woefully if not wilfully ignore the literature. Not only does this volume serve up a feast for philosophers, it is digestible by students. It will put them in a position to appreciate by way of example how different philosophical topics can interconnect and how different branches of philosophy can overlap, in this case philosophical psychology, theory of knowledge, ethical theory, social philosophy, and philosophy of literature. Students will be treated to a prime example of a perennial source of philosophical puzzlement—reflexive paradox—not that self-deception ultimately leads to that. And last but not least, they will learn that contemporary philosophy has a heart.


[1]All references to authors and to pages are, unless otherwise indicated, to the book under review.

[2]For further examples of unintentional but motivated action, an argument that self-deception is not intentional, and a criticism of the time-lag theory see Bach (1981).

[3]Stephen White proposes, within a homuncularist framework, an original irrealist account of the self-deceiver’s responsibility. Yet he provides no basis for this framework beyond appealing to a supposed “prevalence of homuncular models in cognitive science” (p. 478) and the alleged fact that they “are sufficiently well understood” (p. 453). Amélie Rorty, on the other hand, does not regard the homuncular model as objectively correct but instead contends that it contributes to the appearance of self-deception. She suggests that this appearance is an artifact of our tendency to superimpose two conflicting models of the self, a unitary one and a compartmentalized one. This suggests an irrealist view of self-deception.

[4]A similar problem arises in the theory of meaning when it is supposed that for an expression to mean a certain thing to someone, the person must believe it means that. This view turns idiolectical meaning into metalinguistic belief, and that is a levels confusion. In philosophy of mind, it used to be supposed that to be in pain is to be aware of being in pain or even to believe one is pain (a poor excuse, I must say, for cruelty to animals). Finally, level confusions are rife in epistemology. Here are two examples (see William Alston 1980 for more). It is often thought that to believe something on the basis of something else entails believing that the latter is a reason for the former. Also, coherentists sometimes think that coherence requires believing that one’s beliefs are coherent.

[5]Darwall’s fascinating essay is primarily concerned to explain why the phenomenon of self-deception has been neglected by value-based and by duty-based ethical theories but is emphasized by character-based ones.

[6]Rey mistakenly assimilates my distinction between thinking and believing to the distinction between occurrent and dispositional belief. I take there to be only one kind of belief and explicitly deny that occurrent belief is a kind of belief. Also, he worries about how a belief can play any role without being activated, apparently endorsing the view that to become activated is to become occurrent (p. 271). But being activated does not necessarily mean being explicitly thought—beliefs can play a role in reasoning, inquiry, recall, and association without coming to mind. Also, Rey rightly points out that the sustained and recurrent thought that p is evidence for believing that p, but he seems not to appreciate (p. 272) that on my view, if the unpleasant belief is the belief that p, self-deception involves the avoidance of the sustained and recurrent thought that p. That is, self-deception suppresses the subjective evidence that one believes that p.

[7]This distinction is also recognized by David Sanford, who notes the process-product ambiguity in   “-tion” words like “self-deception” (p. 163).

[8]Like Rey, Audi objects to my view that the self-deceiver tends to think the opposite of what he believes, but he too overlooks the distinction between thinking that p and merely thinking of p, as when he complains that the self-deceiver can sustain the relevant thought “provided he has adequate defenses” (p. 119, n. 5). But what I identify as rationalization, evasion, and jamming (see the next section) are precisely the defenses needed for avoiding the thought that p when the thought of p occurs.

[9]In my view such a requirement is not really needed, since its work is already done by the “avoids the sustained and recurrent thought” condition.

[10]I must note that Erwin’s criticism (pp. 238-9) of my analysis is based on a misrepresentation (including a misquotation) of my position. He mistakenly attributes to me the claim that the self-deceiver avoids the sustained and recurrent thought of that which he is self-deceived about, rather than of its negation. One avoids the sustained and recurrent thought that p if one is self-deceived that not-p.

[11]Evasion by itself does not suffice for self-deception. In my view, avoiding the thought that p by avoiding the thought of p does not count as self-deception unless one would be disposed to avoid the thought that p even if one did not avoid the thought of p (Bach 1981, p. 363).

[12]Ronald de Sousa makes a similar point about emotions. “Vanity, envy, ambition, grief, resentment, apprehension, despair, lust, jealousy, and anger all induce us to connive in the clouding of our vision” (p. 327). Indeed, not only can emotions both cause and be caused by self-deception in belief, often creating a vicious circle which includes self-deception about one’s emotions, emotions themselves can be self-deceptive.





Alston, William

1980     “Levels Confusions in Epistemology,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy

                5, 135-150.


Bach, Kent

1981     “An Analysis of Self-deception,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research                                   41, 351-270.


1984     “Default Reasoning,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 65, 37-58.


Carroll, Lewis

1895     “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles,” Mind 4, 278-280.


Cummins, Robert

1983     Psychological Explanation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).


Harman, Gilbert

1986     Change in View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).