Compare opinions of world leading experts and influencers.

Is self-deception a fault?

Many philosophers and psychologists embrace self-knowledge as a life quest, recommending its benefits to others. In popular culture, it is epitomized by Dr Phil's famous self-help catch phrase: "Get Real!". However, the belief that lying to ourselves is detrimental to our well being is far from ubiquitous. In fact, some experts believe that self-deception is necessary for a healthy mind.

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Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Science

Richard Dawkins    Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Atheism Activist
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others.
11 Oct 2001    Source

Eliezer Yudkowsky    Artificial Intelligence Researcher
When you're doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most. Don't rehearse standard objections whose standard counters would make you feel better. Ask yourself what smart people who disagree would say to your first reply, and your second reply. Whenever you catch yourself flinching away from an objection you fleetingly thought of, drag it out into the forefront of your mind.
05 Oct 2007    Source

Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
Mostly Agree
Evolution judged that [having] misleading beliefs would tend to help us fool our colleagues, and so better survive and reproduce. It created subconscious mental processes to manage this process of deciding when our beliefs should be accurate or misleading. ... Many folks figure that if evolution planned for them to believe a lie, they might as well believe a lie; that probably helps them achieve their goals. But I want, first and foremost, to believe the truth.
15 Jun 2009    Source

Experts In Philosophy

Ayn Rand    Philosopher, Novelist
An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection—to the conceptual identification of your inner states—you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception . . . .
01 Nov 1984    Source

Robert Todd Carroll    Philosophy Professor
Mostly Agree
[to avoid self-deception] non-scientists ought to try to imitate science whenever possible. ... Self-deception is not necessarily a weakness of will, but may be a matter of ignorance, laziness, or cognitive incompetence. On the other hand, self-deception may not always be a flaw and may even be beneficial at times. If we were too brutally honest and objective about our own abilities and about life in general, we might become debilitated by depression.
23 Feb 2009    Source

Experts In Religion

Gautama Buddha    Founder of Buddhism
[Paraphrasing:] Normally we have a sincere wish to avoid suffering permanently, but we never think to abandon our delusions. However, without controlling and abandoning our delusions, it is impossible to attain permanent liberation from suffering and problems. Therefore, we should follow Buddha’s advice and, through our concentration on the profound meaning of Dharma and the force of our determination, emphasize controlling our attachment, anger, and other delusions.
Before 100 A.D.    Source

Experts In Psychology

Sigmund Freud    Famous Psychologist
Mostly Disagree
No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.
01 Jan 1905    Source

David Livingstone Smith    Philosophy and Psychology Professor
Our lives are awash with deceit, but becoming aware of it would [...] undermine the foundations on which our lives are built. Self-deception is not a pathological state, a deviation from the norm of truthfulness. It is normal, ‘healthy’ and adaptive. It helps get us through the night [and] oils the machinery of social intercourse... In this sense, there is arguably something nihilistic about urging others to seek self-knowledge, and something self-destructive about pursuing it.
01 Mar 2006    Source

Experts In Science

Robert Trivers    Professor of Evolutionary Biology
Mostly Disagree
Biologists propose that the overriding function of self-deception is the more fluid deception of others. That is, hiding aspects of reality from the conscious mind also hides these aspects more deeply from others. An unconscious deceiver is not expected to show signs of the stress associated with consciously trying to perpetrate deception.
01 Jan 1988    Source

Experts In Economics

Tyler Cowen    Economics Professor
Mostly Disagree
Suppose we were offered the option of surgery, or a pill, to correct our self-deception. ... Don’t take that pill. ... The depressed, even though their thought processes are often quite rational, tend to have more accurate views about their real standing in the world. ... It is a moot point whether depression causes a lack of self-deception or whether a lack of self-deception causes depression. Probably cause and effect run in both directions. In any case we really do need our self-deception.
31 Jul 2007    Source

Experts In Literature

Joseph Carroll    English Professor
Mostly Disagree
It is human nature to justify and rationalize one's own behavior, to exaggerate one's own altruism, and to disguise and conceal one's selfishness. It is thus a part of human nature always to produce some gap or tension between the inner private person and the public persona. It is human nature to act out one's public persona so convincingly that one sometimes deludes one's self, and it is human nature to expose and mock the false pretensions of others.
01 Mar 2006    Source


Add Your TakeOnIt (click to expand, no login required)
1 Point      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
If you avoid reality, it will eventually hit you hard.

1 Point      the27th      27 May 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
Here's what I've come to believe.

If you're afraid to abandon a belief that's already starting to look like a self-delusion, it's probably because you're afraid that changing your mind will cause you to lose something you value. If I don't believe in God, I'll become wicked! If I don't believe I'm brilliant, I'll be unhappy! If I don't believe my boyfriend is perfect, I won't love him any more! Wouldn't it be horrible to abandon such delusions?

But here's the thing. I don't want to be wicked, I don't want to be unhappy, and I don't want to be loveless. If I really value being happy for its own sake, for instance, I'll find a way to still be happy, even when I know depressing truths. If you still hold those values even when half-doubting your delusions, you'll be able to hold them even when you reject your delusions altogether.

0 Points      OmnipotentRabbit      10 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
If one does not trust one's own beliefs, then why should one believe them? Why should one have to rationalise and justify things that one knows are inherently wrong? Self-deception only serves to weaken oneself.

0 Points      Benja      10 Apr 2010      General Comment
"Self-deception only serves to weaken oneself."

Really? It seems compartmentalizing one's brain to allow self-deception could be beneficial. An example would be sales. It's hard to do that job without believing in what you're selling. Surely there's some study out there that's tried to measure the correlation between the income of salespeople and the degree to which they irrationally believe that their product is the best...?

Another interesting link - it seems overconfidence can be a good thing:
Overconfidence Looks Good

I've been thinking about adding a question to the website specifically about overconfidence.

0 Points      OmnipotentRabbit      10 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
Of course, but I believe that requiring such economic methods only serve to destroy the individual selling it. It is not about productivity, which self-deception can increase. It is about the health of one's own mind. Overconfidence and such behaviour often leads to suicide or self-destruction, so why should we deceive ourselves?

On a purely moral standpoint it makes absolutely no sense.

1 Point      Packbat      30 Mar 2010      Stance on Question: Agree
One principle which I cannot imagine compromising is the idea that the truth should be believed, once found. Even putting that aside, deception doesn't stop being wrong just because it's yourself you are deceiving: deception means people getting hurt by someone who thinks they're not hurting anyone, it means people taking risks for no good reason. A bad thing, all around.