Self-Deception and the Common Life

Self-Deception and the Common Life

Self-Deception and the Common Life

Self-Deception and the Common Life


Self-deception is a feature of the common life.

This is not to say that self-deception is simple or easily understood. Few features of the common life are. We can say, however, that what is identified by the concept 'self-deception' is within the reach of our linguistic resources and that the expression provides a conduit of intelligibility and serves to convey meaning. Persons employing the concept can be assumed to mean something by it when they use it, so there is significance in the fact, which is here noted, that they do actually use it.

We put the linguistic expression 'self-deception' to work to perform various kinds of meaning tasks. In our linguistic community, we use the concept to identify, describe or otherwise demarcate a phenomenon with which we claim familiarity. Ideally, we who use the expression ought to be able to explain why we used it the way we did; but even if we find ourselves unable to give a strict definition, we can assume that because it was used, this expression was deemed preferable to others, that it, in fact, said what was meant. We expect our language to work on our behalf to say what we mean, and this expectation holds for any concept that would claim to be a part of our common life, the life we share as members of a common linguistic community.

The language of 'self-deception' may not appear particularly difficult, and the assertion that self-deception is a feature of the common life may not appear controversial. We do, after all, use the language of self-deception in the common life, agreeing that that self-deception is not to be cultivated as a good of life; and if asked to say something about self-deception, most of us would remark that we would avoid self-deception if we could. Despite this consensus about the meaning of the concept, even casual reflection on the idea of persons deceiving themselves raises the specter of misunderstanding, even unintelligibility. We would avoid self-deception, we say, but it is not immediately apparent that we can. Why? With that question we ask a question requiring deeper reflection, for now it looks as if self-deception is complex and that understanding it will require sustained attention and further thought.

Although the concept 'self-deception' is a feature of our common linguistic life and the phenomenon itself is all too familiar in our experience, deep, sometimes dark, uncertainty surrounds this topic. Various disputes have arisen about the meaning of self-deception; and since even the most casual reflection on the meaning of the concept can occasion a furrowed brow, let us ask: Why the perplexity? What might the problem of self-deception be?

We want to say, first of all, that self-deception poses a problem about description. If we hold to a certain model of deception, where one person, (a deceiver), who knows or believes something to be true, acts to mislead another . . .

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