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I'm still relatively new to philosophy of mind, so I'm hoping this isn't too obvious of a question. I realize from what I've read on the topic so far that the definition of self-deception (and whether it's even strictly possible) is controversial, but I was trying to understand the difference between self-deception and the following related concepts:

  • Ayn Rand's concept of "faking" or avoiding reality (discussed extensively in Atlas Shrugged and other books, as well as by associates like the psychologist Nathaniel Branden in The Disowned Self)
  • Modern psychology's concept of motivated reasoning
  • Sigmund Freud's concept of denial (as a psychological defense mechanism)
  • "Ordinary" intransigence/obduracy

I'm particularly interested in the application of philosophy of mind's contribution to the idea of self-deception to psychological issues like addiction and self-esteem. Clearly, an issue like addiction is often accompanied by manifestly false beliefs; which category would those fall under (self-deception, motivated reasoning, etc.), assuming that there's an actual difference between those concepts and that some or all of them actually occur?

I had a second, somewhat related question. I listened to John Searle's lectures for his UC Berkeley introductory Philosophy of Mind class awhile back, and he included the following rather homicidal illustration (and I'm paraphrasing heavily):

Suppose that a guy decides he wants to kill his uncle in order to get his inheritance early.

Once he decided to carry it out, he started driving over to his uncle's house to carry it out. However, he was so nervous about doing it that he accidentally took his foot off the brake and struck a pedestrian, killing him.

As you might have guessed, the pedestrian just happened to have been his uncle.

In this case, he intended to kill his uncle and the intention caused him to kill his uncle, but it wasn't an "intentional" killing.

According to Dr. Searle, lawyers have told him that legally this would probably get him off the charges.

I haven't fully explored this yet, but is it possible to use something analogous to this to explain self-deception (or is this a complete "dead end")?

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    Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy have long articles on self-deception that may be of interest to you. The latter touches on self-esteem and addiction in particular (sec.4). – Conifold Oct 21 '16 at 21:04
  • @Conifold Yes, I did recently read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on the topic, it was very helpful. I'll read the other article as well, thanks for pointing it out. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 '16 at 21:11
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    As I see it those four concepts are theories explaining cases or elaborating patterns of self-deception, and are therefore not ideas separate from it. So there is no question. E.g. in (Anna) Freud, a large number of defenses, at least half, are different kinds of self-deception, not just denial, but projection, displacement, undoing, reaction, and even sublimation are all self-deceptions. – user9166 Oct 24 '16 at 5:53
  • @jobermark Yeah, it seems like some theories of deception don't distinguish very clearly between all of the terms - for example, based on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article referred to above, it seems like non-intentionalist views don't necessarily hold to much of a distinction between self-deception and motivated reasoning. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '16 at 14:55
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    From just the viewpoint of defenses, there are a number of dimensions to a self-deception: the degree of unconsciousness, the term in plays out over, the darkness of the motive involved, the degree of deflection (reversal vs redirection in a random direction vs slight inflection from the truth), the reason for the discomfort avoided, how much it is meant to stand up to external scrutiny if detected... From that point of view 'motivated reasoning' is rationalization: almost conscious, opportunistic, light, slight deflections, power consolidating, avoiding guilt and securing identity, plausible – user9166 Oct 24 '16 at 16:05
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To answer the second part of your question about relating self-deception to Searles's example of the intentional/unintentional homicide. I think the problem would be that such a simplistic interpretation as Searle's presumes that there is only one final intention in the brain, or that at least all competing intentions must eventually be resolved. It is , however, quite possible for the brain to hold several intentions all at the same time, many of which might contradict one another.

The reason why the man in the example would be let off (and it would be entirely right to do so) is that at the time of the car accident we only know that he was listening to one of his intentions sufficiently to drive to his uncle's house (presumably with some murder weapon), but what we do not know is what other intentions might have been in his brain competing with that one. We do not know which would have won out in the end at the point of actually coming to pull the trigger, so all the man could be tried for is the intention to commit murder (carrying a gun), the actual killing of his uncle is not something we can say he would have finally done without knowing what other competing intentions were also in his mind.

Concepts of self-deception can be related to this phenomenon insofar as an intention to loose weight is not necessarily a self-deception simply because it will never happen, it is a genuine intention which is consistently outweighed by a second contradictory intention to satiate ones hunger. But these differ from concepts such as motivated reasoning, which cover not the presence of contrary intentions, but the selection of evidence used to weight them, so I don't think it could be used to link the two.

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I like @jobmark's excellent comments, just to summarize them as I understand them (since they're the answer to the question), it's more that these concepts are types of self-deception than that they are actually distinct from it. In fact, Anna Freud, for example, saw most of the defense mechanisms (not just denial but also things like projection, etc.) as forms of self-deception.

To quote the second paragraph,

From just the viewpoint of defenses, there are a number of dimensions to a self-deception: the degree of unconsciousness, the term in plays out over, the darkness of the motive involved, the degree of deflection (reversal vs redirection in a random direction vs slight inflection from the truth), the reason for the discomfort avoided, how much it is meant to stand up to external scrutiny if detected... From that point of view 'motivated reasoning' is rationalization: almost conscious, opportunistic, light, slight deflections, power consolidating, avoiding guilt and securing identity, plausible.

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