The Bright Side of Being Wrong? The Perils and Paradoxes in the Search for Beneficial Misbeliefs

01 January 2019 → 31 December 2022
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Theory and methodology of philosophy
    • Philosophy
    • Other philosophy, ethics and religious studies not elsewhere classified
Project description

Sometimes the truth can be hurtful or unsettling. Is it not better then to live in falsehood, or is the
truth always preferable? This project investigates the hypothesis of “beneficial misbelief”. These are
beliefs that, though untrue, are supposed to confer certain benefits on individuals or on society at
large. How can we discover such beliefs, and is it possible (and desirable) to embrace them? The
project will explore the philosophical, psychological and ethical issues surrounding beneficial
misbelief. The philosophical part of the project will analyse the concept of "belief" in comparison
with other mental states, as well as categorize the different sorts of benefits of misbelief. The
researcher will also explore the central paradox surrounding the quest for beneficial misbeliefs:
does it make sense to embrace misbeliefs voluntarily, for the sake of some hoped-for benefits? The
psychological part of this project will look at the possible downsides and dangers of misbelief. Is
self-deception viable in the long run, and is it possible that beneficial misbeliefs also have sideeffects,
either for yourself or for third parties? The ethical part of the project will investigate if it is
ever morally acceptable to deprive someone of the truth, or even to actively instil or promote
misbelief in others. This part of the project will investigate the literature around the placebo effect
as a case study in benign paternalistic deception.