Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel

Tamar Gendler (left) and Eric Schwitzgebel (right) on implicit associations and belief.

Most of us explicitly renounce racist beliefs. Yet empirical work suggests that, for many people, their implicit racial associations are in tension with their explicit avowals. So what do we really believe? Gendler contends that, in general, our implicit associations (which she calls “aliefs”) are distinct from our beliefs, while Schwitzgebel argues that our beliefs are a composite that includes our implicit assumptions.

Related works

by Gendler

Alief and Belief” (2008)
Alief in Action (and Reaction)” (2008)

by Schwitzgebel:
Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs” (forthcoming)
Blog: The Splintered Mind

More video:
Tamar Gendler and Paul Bloom (BhTV)
Eric Schwitzgebel and Josh Knobe (BhTV)

To download this episode of Philosophy TV click here and select “save link as” to download a .mp4 version of this conversation. If your mobile device supports .mp4 streaming, clicking that link will allow you stream the video.

To download an audio only version of this episode of Philosophy TV click here and select “save link as” to download an .mp3 version of this conversation.


Filed under Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Psychology

5 Responses to Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel

  1. Nathan Jarmie

    Great discussion! I’m so excited for this website.

    One sort of trivial thing about the Juliet example: while the intension of “black person” may yield intellectual equality, the extension (at least where Juliet lives) may yield people with below average effectuated intelligence. (I think it should be clear that effectuated intelligence is want we want to talk about, instead of potential intelligence.) Juliet’s reflective belief concerns the intensional case, but her “aliefs” concern the extensional case. So clearly if she were given the relevant information on black people — the extensional sort –, her belief and aliefs would align.

    Even if I’m right about this, it couldn’t have affected the discussion very much as there are plenty of other good examples.

    Nathan Jarmie

  2. Frank Martin

    If the hypothetical Prof. Juliette, cited in the conversation is understood to be an individual who self-identifies as “black” or… or as an “American of African descent”…how might this affect or does this affect the discussion of her implicit belief/explicit behavior at all? For example, if
    her (hypothetical Juliette’s) intellectual commitments and cognitive awareness affirm racial equality, however, if subliminally, she has been emotionally undermined over decades, such that her underlying belief affirms some assumption of inherent “black” inferiority (yet, her cognitive understanding affirms racial equity based on reliable available evidence…) Is it then possible for her (hypo-Afro-Juliette, if I may) to believe “x” in some circumstances (race equity) and believe “y” in other contexts (inherent “black” inferiority)? In circumstances where hypothetical- Afro-Juliette is able to be reflective, to access her intellectually balanced awareness, harmonizing behavior/ belief in implicit/explicit responses, could she actually believe in racial equity? However, could the character of her (hypo-Afro-Juliette’s) responses radically change or transform themselves in contexts where an emotive/ subconscious response predominates over the reflective/intellectual consideration? Should we assume (and would we assume wrongly) that an emotive-subconsciously directed belief is more honest than a thoughtfully considered intellectual belief if these belief responses conflict one with the other? Or is the possibility of simultaneously holding conflicting beliefs, motivated contextually, possible or probable? (although the holding of the beliefs is simultaneous, their activation may be non-synchronous or is this suspension of specific commitment and “alief”?) Ought we assume that contradictory beliefs are in fact impossible (or, are they merely improbable) simply because they would be illogical (but of course the behaviors of human beings and, in turn, their beliefs are often, even perhaps are likely to be illogical…)?

  3. Chase

    Great segment! Not sure if you’ll be monitoring the discussion threads, but a few questions struck me:

    *Could the “in-between belief” framework relate to modal logic or fuzzy logic? i.e., could an “in-between belief” be correlated with the modality of possiblity or a fractional truth value?
    *Can aliefs be changed or are they permanent?
    *Should there be any regard to the granularity of belief statements in this discussion? For example, “If I stick my hand in fire, I will feel pain.” appears atomic enough. However, “Racial equality” seems to have many constituent instances which do not necessarily have to be simultaneously believed.

    My apologies in advance for any naive questions — just a philosophy student here.

  4. Jeffrey Goldberg

    At the risk of hijacking the point, I’ve been struggling belief problem that neither of the two approaches. So here is the case.

    Max assents to and asserts the proposition that the good and innocent will go to Heaven, a place of eternal joy. When someone close to him dies, Max gains confort in his believe that the dead person is “in a better place”. Max is also aware of proscriptions against murder but is either confident that he is already irredeemably damned, or he believes that if he asks forgiveness it will be granted.

    Max, despite these believes, does not go out and murder the good and the innocent, particularly loved ones, whom he would wish to have eternal joy.

    I would say that a substantial portion of the population is like Max. I am greatly pleased that only a handful are ready to “kill them all and let God sort out his own.”

    Now I suppose we could say that the proposition Max asserts is a “belief” and its negation is an a-lief, but I’m not sure that that fully gets at the compartmentalization of beliefs that things like this may represent.

  5. Tomislav Gapic

    Analogies are powerful things. As are metaphors in bringing out, squeezing out, the subtleties and nuances of reality. The glass/grand canyon analogy is probably insufficient in capturing the psychological dynamics of this particular kind of belief in that it involves physiologically involuntary responses and the studies mentioned don’t involve a similar kind of involuntary response.

    This is of course based on the assumption that involuntary responses are not synonymous with subconscious responses. The evidence may support this in terms of the glass/grand canyon analogy reflecting the body’s survival instinct in action. When we are in a dangerous situation, whether we like it or not, norepinephrine or noradrenalin are activated–the old “fight or flight” mechanism. It would be difficult to support that this same survival mechanism is activated in support of racial/sexual perceptions and beliefs.

    What is probably more likely is that our world, the perceptions, memories, thoughts that animate and populate our sense of reality are not aided and abetted by accurate and substantial evidence, but by the partiality and bias of what it is that gives us a sense of knowledge. For one example, the media is flooded with a certain type of information, and this information, whether it is an accurate representation of this reality or not, tends to inform us. At first, we may respond intellectually and in a more abstract sense, but in time, when we are not noticing these stories with the same attention, they become part of the background. This is where our emotional response begins to come into play. This is probably a more likely beginning to how racism and sexism et al are inculcated.