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Well, because William James said so

Starting point
The self seems fragmented, with many distinct parts.
Why think the self is fragmented?
• Well, because William James
said so.
• Why believe him? Look at that
strangely compelling face!
• Also: James’ work has been
central to nearly all subsequent
empirical work on the self and
it has held up *really* well.
Fragmented self
• There are many non-overlapping conceptions of the self, each
seeming to pick out a different, but important element of what
we call “the self.”
• James described the empirical self as composed of different
attributes: the material self, the social self, the spiritual self, and
the pure Ego.
• He also characterized different self-related behaviors, selffeelings, and other external components (including, for
example, our clothes and personal possessions, and the stories
we tell about ourselves).
Lots of Evidence
• To show that anything is fragmented, we look for some
telltale evidence: dissociations, failed conjunctions, and
other pathologies.
• We do see evidence for such dissociations in decision
making, social behavior, long-term consistency, etc.
• Certain pathologies reveal breakdowns in self-unity
(addiction, memory loss, split-brains, psychosis, loss of
motor control, etc.)
One such domain
❖ Is self deception.
❖ The fact that we can seemingly deceive ourselves
suggests a lot about the self, and also about the limits
(or contours) of self-knowledge.
Key question:
What unifies the self?
One bad answer
There is a central agent or decider who coordinates all the
various parts.
Maybe it’s
Like a house, the self could be
composed of many different
parts, put together in a
particular way. But how?
The idea of a builder
is just as bad as a
central agent.
If it’s constructed, it’s not
constructed by anyone (oranything).
Slightly Better Answer
Instead of a building metaphor (of construction), we instead think of the self
as resulting from the competition of its parts (of integration)
So many questions
• What are the parts?
• How do they compete?
• What does “winning” even mean in this context?
• Maybe there really is no unity to the self after all, and
we should accept that it’s just a mess and move on with
our (literally) selfless lives?
Other Deception (also known as, well, deception)
Conventional Definition
❖ In typical cases of other-deception, person A knows
that p is not true and deliberately causes person B to
believe p.
❖ Self-deception raises some difficult paradoxes that don’t
arise for regular deception.
The usual account
❖ (i) A knows (or sincerely believes) that p is false.
(ii) A deliberately brings it about that he holds the
false belief p.
Paradox of dual belief
❖ [G]iven the assumption that to believe not-p is
tantamount to disbelieving p, it describes a selfdeceiver as simultaneously believing and disbelieving
p, which comes close to generating an outright logical
Paradox of Intention
❖ [H]ow could a person intentionally cause herself to
believe p, while believing that p is false?
We need examples
94% of professors think they are above
Illusory superiority
❖ One a scale of 1-10, where would you put yourself?
❖ Turns out you’re most likely to put 7.
❖ Wait, you say? WHAT on a scale of 1-10?
❖ Well, most things.
❖ In general, for almost any skill, we tend to think we’re
just above average.
❖ Even though this isn’t very likely or possible.
Lake Wobegon Effect
Florence Foster Jenkins
From Wikipedia
Despite her careful efforts to insulate her singing from public
exposure, a preponderance of contemporaneous opinion favored
the view that Jenkins’s self-delusion was genuine. “At that time
Frank Sinatra had started to sing, and the teenagers used to
faint during his notes and scream,” McMoon told an
interviewer. “So she thought she was producing the same kind of
an effect.” “Florence didn’t think she was pulling anyone’s leg,”
said opera historian Albert Innaurato. “She was compos mentis,
not a lunatic. She was a very proper, complex individual.” As
an anonymous obituary writer later put it, “Her ears, schooled
in constant introversion, heard only the radiant tones which
never issued forth to quell the mirth of her audiences.”
Self-deception in Psychology
❖ Self-deception in psychology is usually thought to be a bias
for information, methods, or sources that favor our own
❖ This prevents unwanted information from being processed
and absorbed, and favors sources that carry wanted
❖ Note: the isn’t really an *act* of deception; it’s not like we
choose to deceive ourselves.
❖ So in what sense is this a form of actual deception?
Possible solutions
❖ There are two main strategies.
❖ One—the partition strategy—focuses on the claim I
made at the beginning: if the self is fragmented, then
perhaps some parts deceive other parts.
❖ These can be partitions of the mind, of belief, or through
The Inner Struggle
P Not P
Not P
❖ Self-deception is just other deception
❖ It makes full agents of our parts
❖ Intention is difficult to maintain
Reformulation Strategy
You literally believe it
❖ Puzzles are a lot less interesting.
❖ The pretense or wishful thinking ends up looking a lot
like actual belief, and so the solution rings hollow.
Enough for today
❖ More on Thursday!

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