Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Buss, Sarah

Second Advisor

Fales, Evan

First Committee Member

Fumerton, Richard

Second Committee Member

Jeske, Diane

Third Committee Member

Korsch, Dietrich


This dissertation focuses on questions regarding the metaphysical and psychological possibility of self-deception and attempts to show that self-deception is a phenomenon best characterized as both motivated and intentional, such that self-deceivers can be held responsible for their deceptions in a stronger sense than that of being merely epistemically negligent.

In Chapter One, I introduce the paradoxes of self-deception, which arise when one attempts to draw a close analogy between self- and other-deception, and I discuss the various ways in which one might characterize an unwarranted belief as irrational. I go on to show how the various ways one understands interpersonal deception may mirror the various accounts one might give of self-deception. I concluded the chapter with a brief discussion of the role of empirical studies in philosophical investigations of irrationality.

In Chapter Two, I look more closely at a particular kind of intentionalist account of self-deception, namely the claim that we must suppose the existence of a partitioned mind to make sense of the so-called "internal irrationality" of the self-deceiver. I discuss both stronger and weaker versions of this theory, in an attempt to show that it tends to raise more metaphysical worries than it solves. I argue further that if there is such a thing as divisions within the mind, an account of self-deception centered around such divisions will not get the intentionalist about self-deception what he or she wants.

In Chapter Three, I move on to discuss non-intentionalist accounts of self-deception. Such theories have gained in popularity in recent years, due to their appeals to explanatory parsimony. Against these theories, I argued that there are certain phenomenon we take to be central to self-deception that Mele, Barnes, et al. cannot account for. I therefore propose that a more robust account of self-deception is necessary to make sense of these phenomena.

Chapter Four attempts to provide such an account. I claim that if we focus more heavily on the diachronic process by which self-deceivers elicit and/or maintain their beliefs over time, what emerges looks much more like an intentional project aimed at the manipulation of one's evidence or evidential standards than a mere more-or-less unconscious process of motivated biasing. I suggest that such a view can escape the paradoxes of self-deception, while at the same time making sense of the features lacking on non-intentionalist accounts.

Finally, in Chapter Five I examine the morality of self-deception. I argue that self-deceivers are not only epistemically but also morally responsible for their self-deceptions, and that self-deception generally represents a moral failure on the part of the moral agent, regardless of the normative moral theory one adopts.


biasing, intention, irrationality, partitioned-mind theories, philosophy of action, self-deception


vii, 166 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 161-166).


Copyright 2010 Amber Griffioen

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