The Normativity of Automaticity


  • For their invaluable feedback, the authors wish to thank Michael Brent, Taylor Carman, John Christman, Katie Gasdaglis, Tamar Gendler, Eric Katz, Sean Kelly, Christia Mercer, John Morrison, Eric Schwitzgebel, Shannon Sullivan and two anonymous reviewers for Mind & Language. Versions of this paper were presented at the 2011 Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association and the Philosophical Psychology Lab at Harvard University. We are deeply grateful for the helpful comments and questions we received during these presentations.

Address for correspondence: Michael Brownstein, Department of Humanities, NJIT, University Heights, Newark, NJ, 07102–1982, USA. Email:


While the causal contributions of so-called ‘automatic’ processes to behavior are now widely acknowledged, less attention has been given to their normative role in the guidance of action. We develop an account of the normativity of automaticity that responds to and builds upon Tamar Szabó Gendler's account of ‘alief’, an associative and arational mental state more primitive than belief. Alief represents a promising tool for integrating psychological research on automaticity with philosophical work on mind and action, but Gendler errs in overstating the degree to which aliefs are norm-insensitive.