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Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Socrates Cafe Summary: When is Self-Deception Right?

Socrates Cafe Summary: When is Self-Deception Right?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's meeting and gathered afterwards at Doc & Eddy's to socialize. Below is a summary of the discussion. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from my notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "When is Self-Deception Right?" From the 21 participants, 11 said sometimes and 10 said never. Some of the circumstances given by those who said sometimes were: a) To enjoy life, by pretending not to see problems. b) To protect others, by not revealing painful truths. c) To protect self-esteem, by not seeing your physical and character flaws. d) To survive, by not feeling temporary pain, stress, or despair. The reasons given by those who said self-deception is never right were: e) It's lying, which is unethical. f) It's ignorance, which sabotages wise decision-making. g) It's self-centered, which can hurt others.

2. DEFINITIONS: Participants first brainstormed each definition before critiquing to insure that all possible definitions were at least silently considered.

The following definitions were suggested for Right: a) Good. b) Desirable. c) Appropriate. d) Healthy. e) Enables flourishing f) Beneficial to society. g) Life-affirming. h) Acceptable under all five ethical approaches as explained in the article "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at­

As usual, the moderator encouraged the group to choose the last definition because he believes every question should be decided ethically. The moderator then shared for the first time his understanding that the ethical approaches are arranged according to maturity: Infant Utilitarianism, Child Rights, Teen Fairness/Justice, Adult Common Good and Virtue. As with maturity, Utilitarianism can be least rational (what feels good is good) and most self-centered (my survival is most important) while Virtue can require the most reasoning (what's good may sometimes not feel good) and be least self-centered (humanity's survival is most important). While the model appears hierarchical (Virtue at the top), like life it is circular: humanity's survival depends on individual survival and the adult becomes the child again through procreation.

The following definitions were then suggested for Self-Deception: i) Lying to yourself. j) Believing what's advantageous. k) Intentionally ignoring facts. l) Holding contradictory beliefs. m) Knowingly suppressing truth. n) Motivated false beliefs. The group considered each of the qualities mentioned and agreed on the definition of self-deception as "motivated biased belief", which meant accepting as truth without sufficient proof what satisfies your desires.

Given the above definitions, the question "When is Self-Deception Right?" was understood to mean "Which motivated biased beliefs are ethical?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants offered the following suggestions for why the question was being asked: a) Self-deception may be harmful. b) Self-deception may be helpful. c) Self-deceptions create moral dilemmas and we want to choose ethically.

Participants then made the following observations about self-deception that could help answer the question: e) Self-deceptions can significantly harm others, which implied that few if any would be considered ethical. f) Self-deceptions are a defense mechanism, which implied they are instinctual as opposed to rational. g) Self-deceptions are motivated by fear, which implied they can be difficult to surrender.

4. OBJECTIVES: In addition to being acceptable under all five approaches, participants suggested the following additional criteria to identify which motivated biased beliefs are ethical: a) It promotes life. b) It's temporary. c) It makes you a better person.

5. OPTIONS: Participants then suggested the following self-deceptions that could best satisfy the objectives: a) Positive affirmations stated in the present tense (e.g. I am joyful) that contradict your present situation but motivate you toward your destination. b) Temporary denial of painful realities (e.g. betrayal, torture, disaster) to help you focus on survival. c) Belief in afterlife to counter your fear of death. d) Belief in God to give your life meaning. e) Belief in your spouse's lovableness to strengthen your relationship.

6. COST BENEFIT: In general, participants accepted self-deceptions that weren't harmful to others but pointed out how they could lead to harm. a) Belief in God could lead to unwelcome preaching and restricting freedoms. b) Denial of painful realities like betrayal could encourage their repeat. c) Presently stated affirmations like "I attract wealth" could lead to inaction.

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, the moderator asked participants to give their final answers to the discussion question "Which motivated biased beliefs are ethical?" in addition to one other question: "What are your favorite self-deceptions?" As to which motivated biased beliefs are ethical, the answers were: a) None (10). b) Positive Affirmations (6) c) Temporary denial of painful realities (4). d) Believing your spouse is lovable (1). As to favorite self-deceptions, some of the answers were: e) I love my job. f) I'm not afraid. g) I'm getting younger. h) My butt's not big.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Socrates Cafe Summary: When is Self-Deception Right?" at http://philosophy.mee...­

Thanks for reading.


P.S. If you're a regular reader of these summaries, than you know what's missing here is an announcement for the next meeting I'll be moderating.

There won't be one.

The Tempe Library is beginning basement renovations in May and we must surrender our space to groups with more seniority. Rather than search for another location, I've decided that now would be a good time for me to move on. Though leaving this group makes me very sad, I need to make space in my life for my next project.

So what will happen with the group?

Please contact me if you want to become the new organizer and lead the group in a new location to continue its philosophical mission of improving critical thinking and ethical deciding. You don't have to organize the way I have. Instead, you could lead a traditional Socrates Cafe, where questions are not chosen in advance but suggested and voted upon by participants at the meeting. For tips on how to organize and facilitate a Socrates Cafe, visit http://www.philosophe...­

I hope the group continues and I will help the new organizer get started. But if no one steps forward with the right qualifications and ethical motivations, I'll delete the group.
user 8869511
Chandler, AZ
Post #: 6

Your excellent writing and organizational abilities will be missed.

Congratulations on your next endeavor. They are lucky to have you.


Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 51

Your excellent writing and organizational abilities will be missed.

Congratulations on your next endeavor. They are lucky to have you.

Agreed. David has always set a high philosophical standard that has inspired many people (myself included) to a more rigorous and disciplined way of thinking. I regularly use things I learned at David's Meetups in my every day life.
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