AskDefine | Define doublethink

Dictionary Definition

doublethink n : believing two contradictory ideas at the same time

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them

Extensive Definition

Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs. It is an integral concept of George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.


According to the novel, doublethink is: Another quotation from the novel, when Winston starts thinking about doublethink while exercising:
Orwell explains that the Party could not protect its iron power without degrading its people with constant propaganda. Yet, knowledge of this brutal deception, even within the Inner Party itself, could lead to disgusted collapse of the State from within. For this reason, the government uses a complex system of reality control. Though Nineteen Eighty-Four is most famous for the Party's pervasive surveillance of everyday life, reality control means that the population of Oceania — all of it, including the ruling élite — could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday thought and language. Newspeak is the method for controlling thought through language; doublethink is the method of directly controlling thought.
Newspeak incorporated doublethink, as it contains many words that create assumed associations, between contradictory meanings, especially true of fundamentally important words, such as good and evil; right and wrong; truth and falsehood; justice and injustice.
Doublethink is a form of trained, willful intellectual blindness to contradictions in a belief system. Doublethink differs from ordinary hypocrisy in that the "doublethinking" person deliberately had to forget the contradiction between his two opposing beliefs — and then deliberately forget that he had forgotten the contradiction. He then had to forget the forgetting of the forgetting, and so on; this intentional forgetting, once begun, continues indefinitely. In the novel's notes, Orwell describes it as "controlled insanity".
In the case of workers at the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, doublethink means being able to falsify public records, and then believe in the new history that they, themselves, had just written. As revealed in Goldstein's Book, the Ministry's name is itself an example of doublethink: the Ministry of Truth is really concerned with lies.
Moreover, doublethink's self-deception allows the Party to maintain huge goals and realistic expectations: If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one's own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes. Thus, each Party member could be a credulous pawn, but would never lack relevant information. The Party is both fanatical and well-informed, thus unlikely either to "ossify" or "grow soft" and collapse. Doublethink would avoid a "killing the messenger" attitude that could disturb the Command structure. Thus, doublethink is the key tool of self-discipline for the Party, complementing the state-imposed discipline of propaganda, and the police state. Together, these tools hid the government's evil not just from the people, but from the government itself, but without the confusion and misinformation associated with primitive totalitarian regimes.
Doublethink is critical in allowing the Party to know what its true goals are without recoiling from them, avoiding the conflation of a regime's egalitarian propaganda with its true purpose.
Since Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949, the word doublethink became synonymous with relieving cognitive dissonance by ignoring the contradiction between two world views - or even of deliberately seeking cognitive dissonance. Some schools of psychotherapy, such as cognitive therapy, encourage people to alter their own thoughts as a way of treating different psychological maladies, (see cognitive distortions).

Prior to Orwell

The following quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who died prior to the publication of 1984, rings curious in the context of Orwellian doublethink:
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Doublethink and Contextual Frames

A true statement is not necessarily true if examined through a different conceptual framework. If you utilize conceptual framework "A" for example to evaluate X as true you can also use conceptual framework "B" to evaluate X and determine that it is false. This may be perceived as classical doublethink when in actuality there has been a significant change in the variables to warrant a closer understanding of the subtle change. (See Contextualism)


doublethink in Arabic: تفكير مزدوج
doublethink in Danish: Dobbelttænkning (1984)
doublethink in German: Doppeldenk
doublethink in Spanish: Doblepensar
doublethink in French: Doublepensée
doublethink in Hungarian: Duplagondol
doublethink in Italian: Bispensiero
doublethink in Polish: dwójmyślenie
doublethink in Portuguese: Duplipensar
doublethink in Swedish: Dubbeltänk
doublethink in Russian: Двоемыслие

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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