What is self-deception 2

Self-deception. A hindrance to the good life?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. The phenomenon of "self-deception"
2.1. Description of the phenomenon
2.2. Differentiation from similar phenomena
2.2.1. mistake
2.2.2. Weak will
2.2.3. lie
2.3. Self-deception as faulty self-determination

3. The logical paradox of self-deception
3.1. Possible resolution of the contradiction
3.2. The principle of sufficient reason

4. The motive of self-deception
4.1. The happy life as a motive
4.2. The immorality of self-deception

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography and sources

1 Introduction

Probably everyone has had such an experience at some point: someone is firmly convinced, for example, to always be very generous or polite, to have a particularly good knowledge of human nature or to be particularly well-read. And although all the signs seem to speak against this self-image, he remains of the firm view that he has this quality.

Most people have probably been victims of this phenomenon at some point - and at the same time perpetrators. The phenomenon we are talking about is “self-deception”.

Self-deception - as it is understood here - corresponds to evading a potentially uncomfortable truth. The act of self-deception is therefore similar to a lie, with the difference that, in the case of a lie, other people are to be deceived or cheated, while in the case of self-deception, the liar himself is the target of the deception.

Correspondingly, Kant distinguishes between the metaphysics of morals inner of the outer Lie. The inner lie is necessary for immoral action - despite the rational insight into what is morally required.[1] Following the description that the self-deception corresponds to an inner lie in which the liar and the lied to are the same person, the following problem arises:

“For it will be admitted that if I try deliberately and cynically to lie to myself, I will fail completely in this undertaking, the lie will shrink and dissolve under my gaze; it is destroyed from behind, just by knowing that I am lying to me [...]. "[2]

The focus of this work will not be on the logical paradox of self-deception, but on the motivation of the self-deceiving. In order to analyze these adequately, it is first necessary to consider the phenomenon as such (Chapter 2.1.) And to distinguish it from other related phenomena (Chapter 2.2.). Then the logical contradiction that seems to be inherent in self-deception is examined (Chapter 3), whereupon the ethical motive is analyzed and discussed (Chapter 4), which relates directly to the central question of whether a happy life is possible within a self-deception is.

2. The phenomenon of "self-deception"

First of all, an attempt should be made to grasp the self-deception phenomenologically. For this, both the self-deceiving person and the object of the deception are considered. After this description of the phenomenon, it is distinguished from other phenomena related to it. The question of the existence of such a phenomenon “self-deception” will not be considered here (despite its relevance for the topic and despite the paradoxical nature of this phenomenon). It is therefore assumed that self-deception exists.

2.1. Description of the phenomenon

It is found that self-deception is difficult to see because it relates not to what a person does but to what he thinks. In addition, like the lie, it can only be recognized retrospectively, i.e. after it has been uncovered.

Assuming that it is not clear to the person concerned that they are deceiving themselves, it would be entirely conceivable that the diagnosis of self-deception on their part is only part of a self-deception that has just not yet been discovered.

According to Beier, a person who deceives himself is of the opinion that something is true, although in a certain way he knows or at least suspects that this opinion is not true (Knowledge condition). Necessarily, the self-deceiving person's view is untrue; accordingly, the opposite of what the self-deceiving person believes is true (Truth condition). In addition, there are no external circumstances or persons that intentionally or unintentionally lead the self-deceiver to this wrong view (Intentionality condition). Otherwise it wouldn't be a self-deception, it would be one normal Acting lies or deceit. Accordingly, the self-deceiving person seeks and / or finds ways and means of not having to recognize either the falseness of their own view or the truth of the contrary view. A person who deceives himself tends to hold on to his own (untrue) view, even if he encounters indications of its untruth. Such a person seems to be evading the truth. The reasons for this can be varied, as a rule the truth simply seems to be more unpleasant than the lie (Meaningfulness condition)[3].

If these four conditions are not met, it is not a question of self-deception, according to Beier.

The behavior of the self-deceiving seems parallel to that of the one normal To be a liar A, whom the lying B threatens to find out about: If B recognizes discrepancies in the lie, A usually tries to support the original lie with further lies and excuses and to make it appear credible again. The mainspring of this behavior in both cases is A's assumption that the truth is more unpleasant for those involved (either B and A or, in the case of self-deception, only A herself) than the lie. This behavior also reveals itself to the self-deceiving.

The objects of self-deception can be of very different nature, but the relationship of the self-deceiver to the object is always subjectively significant.[4] For something that is not assessed as subjectively significant, it would not be worth lying to yourself. Whether the subjective significance of an object is completely clear to the person - i.e. it is an opinion about something - or whether it is just a conjecture or whether the subjective significance is only recognized retrospectively is an open question. "[...] people [avoid] insights that are meaningful for them [...] without having formed them beforehand."[5]

In the case of self-deception “[…] there is […] no duality between the deceiver and the deceived. ... The insincerity does not come from the outside to human reality. "[6] Self-deception is a lie that only needs one person, namely those who deceive themselves. Accordingly, self-deception is something inherent in the person who deceives himself.

A self-deceiving person has a belief that, in some ways, they believe to be true and false at the same time. She believes it to be true insofar as she clings to it. It must regard them as false insofar as this is the only explanation why indications of the falseness of the conviction can be consistently ignored or incorrectly weighted.

There are equivalent terms to the concept of self-deception, which do not differ significantly in their meaning and application from that of self-deception. Thus, in the paragraph on the lie in "The Metaphysics of Morals", Kant uses the expression "inner lie"[7] and Sartre in "Being and Nothing" used the term "la mauvaise foi"[8] what as insincerity is translated. Other common expressions are, for example, “life lie” or “self-deception”. All of these terms describe the same or the same phenomenon, although they seem to have different accents. The expression “lie of life” is associated with an existential character and with “insincerity” - as Sartre uses it - a self-deception about oneself. The term “self-deception” is the most common in research and is therefore used extensively in this work.

2.2. Differentiation from similar phenomena

In this sub-chapter, self-deception is compared - on the basis of the previous chapter - with other related phenomena. These in turn were the cause of countless investigations, which are not further considered here. In the following, the self-deception of the lie, the mistake and the Weak will delimited. The following definitions are reduced to their essential characteristics for the delimitation.


[1] Cf. KANT, Immanuel (1797): MS, Doctrine of Virtue §9, p. 312 ff.

[2] SARTRE, Jean-Paul (1943): Being and nothing. P. 123.

[3] Cf. BEIER, Kathi (2010): Self-deception. P. 27 ff.

[4] See LÖW-BEER (1990): Self-deception. P. 235.

[5] Ibid. P. 238.

[6] SARTRE, Jean-Paul (1943): Being and nothing. P. 122.

[7] See KANT (1797), p. 312 ff.

[8] See SARTRE (1943), p. 119 ff.

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