Self-Deception and Illusions of Esteem: Contextualizing Du Châtelet’s Challenge

In Ruth Edith Hagengruber (ed.), Époque Émilienne. Philosophy and Science in the Age of Émilie Du Châtelet (1706–1749). Cham, Switzerland: pp. 391-410 (2022)
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This article discusses Du Châtelet’s challenging claim that entertaining illusions, especially illusions of being esteemed by posterity, is conducive to happiness. It does so by taking a contextualizing approach, contrasting her views with the views on illusions and happiness in Julien Offray de La Mettrie and Bernard de Fontenelle. I will argue for three claims: (1) Du Châtelet’s view that illusions are akin to perceptions that are favorable to us problematically generalizes La Mettrie’s insight that some acts of the imagination have a quasi-perceptual nature. (2) Du Châtelet’s comparison between self-related illusions and illusions in the theater is vulnerable to objection deriving from some distinctions that Fontenelle’s poetics draws between the role of illusions in the theater and the role of illusions in real life. (3) Examining Fontenelle’s analysis of detrimental effects of self-related illusions indicates several respects in which Du Châtelet has underestimated the ambivalent nature of illusions. The upshot of these considerations is that her challenge will have to be modified in substantial respects. In particular, the work of Fontenelle provides some clues as to how Du Châtelet’s “great machines” of happiness could be supplemented through strategies for regulating illusions that are detrimental for happiness.


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