One of the most human things we do is deceive ourselves. Whether it’s convincing ourselves that we don’t have feelings for someone when we really do, or telling ourselves that we didn’t enjoy a book when everyone else loved it, self-deception is something we’re all guilty of. But what does it mean to self-deceive? And why do we do it? In this post, I will attempt to answer these questions by looking at what Nietzsche had to say on the matter.
Nietzsche’s views on self-deception can be found throughout his works, but perhaps most notably in Beyond Good and Evil. For Nietzsche, self-deception is a form of lying—but not just any kind of lying. It is, as he says, “a special case of lying…[where] the liar deceives himself first of all” (Nietzsche, 1886, p. 261). This kind of lying requires a “double twistedness” because not only is the liar deceiving others, but they are also deceiving themselves—making them complicit in their own deception (Nietzsche, 1886, p. 261). But why would someone want to deceive themselves in this way?
As Nietzsche sees it, the answer has to do with a kind of comfort that comes from self-deception. When we delude ourselves into thinking something that isn’t true, we create what he calls “an optical illusion of our condition” which makes us feel better about ourselves than we otherwise would (Nietzsche, 1886, p. 262). This is because the truth—whatever it may be—is often unpleasant, and so by deceiving ourselves about it, we are able to evade the uncomfortable realities of our lives.
Of course, this kind of evasion can only last for so long. As Nietzsche says, “every chance for happiness depends on how much truth one can endure—that is to say…[on] how strong one is” (Nietzsche, 1886, p. 262). In other words, at some point the truth will come out and we will have to face up to it—whether that’s the truth about our feelings for someone else, or the truth about our opinion on a book. And when that happens, the discomfort we were so hoping to avoid will come rushing back tenfold.
Self-deception is something that we’re all guilty of—but what does it mean to self-deceive? And why do we do it? In this post, I looked at what Nietzsche had to say on the matter and argued that self-deception is a form of lying where the liar deceived themselves first and foremost. I also contended that people engage in self-deception because it allows them to avoid the uncomfortable truths of their lives—albeit only for so long.