Rationality and the Good: Critical Essays on the Ethics and Epistemology of Robert Audi

By Mark Timmons; John Greco et al. | Go to book overview

13
Self-Deception and Three
Psychiatric Delusions
On Robert Audi’s Transition from
Self-Deception to Delusion

ALFRED R. MELE

I have learned a lot from Robert Audi over the years. About twenty-five years ago, he even introduced me to a topic that I did not know philosophers had ever discussed: self-deception. I was invited to comment on a conference paper of his, “Self-Deception, Action, and Will.” This was to be my first experience as a commentator; and in order to decrease the probability that I would look like a complete fool, I read everything that Audi had ever written on self-deception and on belief and then proceeded to read dozens of other articles on his topic. By the time I wrote my commentary, I almost had a view of my own on self-deception. I at least had some inkling of a view that I subsequently developed in several articles and a small book. I certainly am indebted to Audi for getting me started on the issue.

In this paper, I will explore a theme in Audi’s “Self-Deception, Action and Will” (1982): the relationship between self-deception and delusion. He writes: “Self-deception may pass over into simple delusion, and the transition may be gradual. But we need to distinguish these things; and normally, at least, when we reach a point at which it is clear that S consciously believes p, he has, I think, passed from self-deception to genuine delusion and no longer believes that [˜p]” (140). Here p is a false proposition. A distinctive feature of Audi’s view is that the person who is self-deceived with respect to a false proposition, p, does not actually believe that p (147), but, instead, “sincerely” (137) — or “non-lyingly” (139)—avows it or is disposed so to avow it. I have objected to this feature—and other features — of Audi’s view elsewhere (Mele 1982; 2001, 52–53, 56), and I will not dwell on our differences here.

In remarking on “a major difference” between his “account of self-deception and inconsistent-belief accounts,” Audi writes: “I maintain that S [the self-deceived person] does not believe p, i.e., the proposition which, on some accounts, he consciously believes or believes to some degree” (147).1 Now, if it were clear that no one who is “in self-deception with respect to p,” p being a false proposition, actually believes that p, then there would be a clear difference between cases of self-deception and cases of delusional belief. If, as I believe, typical cases of self-deception regarding p are cases

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