Enhancing Our Truth Orientation
Department of Economics
George Mason University†
November 2004 (Revised June 2007)
Humans lie and deceive themselves, and often choose beliefs for reasons other than how
closely those beliefs approximate truth. This is mainly why we disagree. Three future
trends may reduce these epistemic vices. First, increased documentation and surveillance
should make it harder to lie and self-deceive about the patterns of our lives. Second,
speculative markets can create a relatively unbiased consensus on most debated topics in
science, business, and policy. Third, brain modifications may allow our minds to be more
transparent, so that lies and self-deception become harder to hide. In evaluating these
trends, we should be wary of moral arrogance.
†firstname.lastname@example.org http://hanson.gmu.edu 703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323MSN
1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
Self-deception has done us proud. Without it ... we might still be running naked through
the forest. ... Self-deception was a splendid adaptation in a world populated by nomadic
bands armed with sticks and stones. It is no longer such a good option in a world stocked
with nuclear and biological weapons. ... The most dangerous forms of self-deception are
the collective ones. Patriotism, moral crusades, and religious fervor sweep across
nations like plagues. (Smith, 2004).
People will hold an opinion because they want to keep the company of others who share
the opinion, or because they think it is the respectable opinion, or because they have
publicly expressed the opinion in the past and would be embarrassed by a “U-turn,” or
because the world would suit them better if the opinion were true (Whyte, 2004).
Moral . . . opinions are often the result of self-interest, self-deception, historical and
cultural accident, hidden class bias, and so on (Daniels, 1979).
Humans today have many epistemic virtues. We are clever animals who have discovered
a vast division of labo