“Self-Deception is sometimes as necessary a tool as a crowbar”: Self-Deception as Beneficial to Institutions
A great deal of recent philosophical work has argued for seeing certain groups as agents, capable of beliefs and desires (Gilbert, List, Pettit, Tollefsen), and as able to make assertions and to lie (Fricker, Lackey). Recently it has also been suggested that self-deception is something that affects institutions as well as individuals (Trivers, Deweese-Boyd). I wish to take such suggestions seriously, and assess the degree to which we should be concerned about self-deceived institutions.
It has been widely assumed that suffering from self-deception is a negative thing – it can often make us unaware of certain truths, or blind us to our own moral shortcomings, and so can prevent us from addressing such problems and defects. Given that institutions can wield a great deal of political, social and economic power, if institutions are capable of self-deception there is room for things to go awry on a very large scale with potentially dire consequences.
However, there is also a great deal of influential literature in psychology (Taylor, Brown, Dutton, Kirsch) which suggests that self-deception may actually be extremely beneficial – that harbouring self-deceptive beliefs can “contribute to the production of better mood, better popularity, better ability to care for others, creativity, productivity, resilience from stress, and ultimately happiness” (van Leeuwen), albeit if kept within certain healthy limits.
I begin by drawing a distinction between lying to oneself and self-deception, and claim that institutions are susceptible to both. I will then suggest that self-deception needn’t be a bad thing – it can clearly be beneficial to institutions as well as individuals, and this fact may serve to change our attitude towards the discovery of institutional self-deception. On the other hand, I will argue that an institution lying to itself is something to be avoided.
Only ISOS members (with valid fee) can access to the discussion section. Visit ISOS website to subscribe.