Living a lie: Self-deception, habit, and social roles

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History & Political Science


In this paper I give an account of self-deception by situating it within the theory of human conduct advanced by American pragmatists John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. After examining and rejecting the two most prevalent explanations of self-deception - namely, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic interpretation and Jean-Paul Sartre's phenomenological one - I provide a brief sketch of some of Dewey's and Mead's fundamental insights into the inherently social nature of mind. I argue that one of the main forms of self-deception involves unreflective acceptance of a belief that impartial inspection would readily expose as spurious. In this instance lying to oneself arises from the failure to analyze an appealing idea from the perspective of the generalized other which we acquire through participation in the universe of rational discourse. I conclude by pointing to certain features of contemporary social life that may indirectly promote such self-dissimulation. © 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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Human Studies