The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on self-deception describes a few common views of self-deception. Broadly, there are two major types of views: intentional approaches (which model self-deception on interpersonal deception) and revisionist approaches (which don't).
The intentional approaches that the article describes are:
- Temporal self-deception - in the beginning, you know that the belief a lie, but you kind of "forget" that it was
- "Psychological partitioning" - in a sense, one "part" of you is lying to another "part" of you
The revisionist views basically views self-deception as a form of "motivated reasoning" or wishful thinking - e.g. "proposition x makes you feel anxious, so you resist believing it."
Non-intentionalists, however, argue that in cases of self-deception the false belief is not accidental but motivated by desire (Mele 2001), anxiety (Johnston 1988, Barnes 1997) or some other emotion regarding p or related to p. So, for instance, when Allison believes against the preponderance of evidence available to her that her daughter is not having learning difficulties, the non-intentionalist will explain the various ways she misreads the evidence by pointing to such things as her desire that her daughter not have learning difficulties, her fear that she has such difficulties, or anxiety over this possibility. In such cases, Allison’s self-deceptive belief that her daughter is not having learning difficulties, fulfills her desire, quells her fear or reduces her anxiety, and it is this function (not an intention) that explains why her belief formation process is bias. Allison’s false belief is not an innocent mistake, but a consequence of her motivational states.
Some non-intentionalists suppose that self-deceivers recognize at some level that their self-deceptive belief that p is false, contending that self-deception essentially involves an ongoing effort to resist the thought of this unwelcome truth or is driven by anxiety prompted by this recognition (Bach 1981; Johnston 1988). So, in Allison’s case, her belief that her daughter is having learning difficulties along with her desire that it not be the case motivate her to employ means to avoid this thought and to believe the opposite.
A common feature of the Looters in Atlas Shrugged is their high level of self-deception. Part of the point of the sanction of the victim is that, in addition to enabling them to continue with their behavior knowing that there'll be someone around to enable them, part of the point is to reassure themselves - i.e. to convince themselves that their beliefs are true. For example, after John Galt's radio speech, Jim Taggart said,
"We don't have to believe it, do we?" cried James Taggart, thrusting his face toward Mr. Thompson, in a manner that was almost a threat. "Do we?" Taggart's face was distorted; his features seemed shapeless; a mustache of small beads sparkled between his nose and mouth.
"Pipe down," said Mr. Thompson uncertainly, drawing a little away from him.
"We don't have to believe it!" Taggart's voice had the flat, inistent sound of an effort to maintain a trance.
Similarly, when Dagny Taggart met with Dr. Robert Stadler about the motor, Dr. Stadler felt a great sense of relief. Hank Rearden later objected that he wished she hadn't agreed to see Dr. Stadler because Dr. Stadler needed her to help him pretend that he was still the great Dr. Robert Stadler.
What was Ayn Rand's basic view of self-deception (if she was ever explicit on the matter)? What view of self-deception most closely matches Atlas Shrugged?