Sustained discussions of self-deception before the 1960s are
difficult to find, with notable exceptions including Bishop Butler’s sermon ‘Upon Self-Deceit’ (1914), and Jean-Paul Sartre’s discussion
of the related notion of ‘bad faith’ in Being
and Nothingness (1956). Interest then took off in the 1960s and 70s, mainly
prompted by the perception that the idea of self-deception is paradoxical. Key
questions discussed in this period were whether and how self-deception is possible. In subsequent decades the reality of self-deception has tended to be taken for granted.
Two fundamental questions that still preoccupy philosophers are what is the state of being self-deceived, and what
is the process that gets us into and
maintains us in that state. Other questions concern the moral implications and
consequences of self-deception, the differences between self-deception and kindred
phenomena, whether self-deception is an evolutionary adaptation, and whether it
is good for us or makes us happy. A large literature from psychology is also highly relevant to this
topic and is not covered in this database, which can generally be found under the heading of ‘motivated reasoning’
or ‘motivated cognition’ in the social psychology journals. Early
philosophical work on self-deception did not engage much with this empirical
literature, though from the 1980s onwards interdisciplinary work has become increasingly common.