Jason D’Cruz, University at Albany – Self Deception

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Can you deceive yourself?

Jason D’Cruz, assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University at Albany, confronts the complexity of self-deception.

Jason D’Cruz is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
His work primarily in ethics and moral psychology on the topics of promising, trust, rationalization, and self-deception.  His recent work appears in Ethics, Philosophical Psychology, Ratio, the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. See his Research page for pre-prints of forthcoming papers.
From 2008-2009 he taught at the Harvard Writing Program, and from 2000-2001 he taught at the Zhejiang University of Science and Technology. In 2002 he worked as a research assistant at the University of Toronto Joint Center for Bioethics. He completed a BA from Yale (with distinction in philosophy) in 2000 and a PhD from Brown in 2009.



The very idea of self-deception is bewildering. How can the same person be both the deceiver and the deceived? Think about it. In order to deceive, you must believe the opposite of the lie you are perpetuating. But if this is case, then how can you be deceived? 

While the idea of self-deception is perplexing, the experience of self-deception is very familiar.

Consider the poor guy with a bad comb-over who is in denial about his baldness. He carefully avoids bright lights and strong winds, yet he insists that he is not bald. …But what if a new miracle cure for baldness is discovered. Would he take the drug? Very likely! This reversal suggests that he knew all along that he was bald.

So what’s going on here?

Confronting the full complexity of self-deception requires grappling with behaviors that are deeply at odds with each other. They force us to ask: “Just what is it that the subject truly believes?”

Maybe self-deceivers are not guided by belief at all. Perhaps, they are guided by imagination.

But unlike method actors or role-players, self-deceivers will often defend their self-deceptive postures even to the point of seriously undermining their own goals. So, there must be something very different about the pretense involved in self-deception.

My diagnosis is that self-deception involves a failure of metacognition. The self-deceiver loses track of the fact that he guided by imagination rather than by belief.

Thinking hard about self-deception reveals the striking complexity of our mental life, as well as a connection between self-ignorance and self-sabotage.