Synthese 194 (11) (2017)

Ellen Fridland
King's College London
It is not rare in philosophy and psychology to see theorists fall into dichotomous thinking about mental phenomena. On one side of the dichotomy there are processes that I will label “unintelligent.” These processes are thought to be unconscious, implicit, automatic, unintentional, involuntary, procedural, and non-cognitive. On the other side, there are “intelligent” processes that are conscious, explicit, controlled, intentional, voluntary, declarative, and cognitive. Often, if a process or behavior is characterized by one of the features from either of the above lists, the process or behavior is classified as falling under the category to which the feature belongs. For example, if a process is implicit this is usually considered sufficient for classifying it as “unintelligent” and for assuming that the remaining features that fall under the “unintelligent” grouping will apply to it as well. Accordingly, if a process or behavior is automatic, philosophers often consider it to be unintelligent. It is my goal in this paper to challenge the conceptual slip from “automatic” to “unintelligent”. I will argue that there are a whole range of properties highlighted by the existing psychological literature that make automaticity a much more complex phenomenon than is usually appreciated. I will then go on to discuss two further important relationships between automatic processes and controlled processes that arise when we think about automatic processes in the context of skilled behavior. These interactions should add to our resistance to classifying automaticity as unintelligent or mindless. In Sect. 1, I present a few representative cases of philosophers classifying automatic processes and behaviors as mindless or unintelligent. In Sect. 2, I review trends in the psychology of automaticity in order highlight a complex set of features that are characteristic, though not definitive, of automatic processes and behaviors. In Sect. 3, I argue that at least some automatic processes are likely cognitively penetrable. In Sect. 4, I argue that the structure of skilled automatic processes is shaped diachronically by practice, training and learning. Taken together, these considerations should dislodge the temptation to equate “automatic” with “unintelligent”
Keywords Cognition  Intelligence  Automaticity  Skill  Cognitive penetrability  Selective attention
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2017
DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0617-9
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 51,707
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Contents of Visual Experience.Susannah Siegel - 2010 - Oxford University Press USA.
The Concept of Mind.Gilbert Ryle - 1949 - Hutchinson & Co.

View all 41 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Knowing How.Yuri Cath - 2019 - Analysis 79 (3):487-503.
Know-How as Competence. A Rylean Responsibilist Account.David Löwenstein - 2017 - Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
The Psychological Reality of Practical Representation.Carlotta Pavese - 2019 - Philosophical Psychology 32 (5):784-821.

View all 28 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Who is the Controller of Controlled Processes?Daniel M. Wegner - 2005 - In Ran R. Hassin, James S. Uleman & John A. Bargh (eds.), The New Unconscious. Oxford Series in Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience. Oxford University Press. pp. 19-36.
How Automatic and Representational is Empathy, and Why.Martin L. Hoffman - 2001 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (1):38-39.
Automaticity in Virtuous Action.Clea F. Rees & Jonathan Webber - 2014 - In Nancy E. Snow & Franco V. Trivigno (eds.), The Philosophy and Psychology of Character and Happiness. Routledge. pp. 75-90.
Ethical Automaticity.M. Brownstein & A. Madva - 2012 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 42 (1):68-98.
Implicit Mental Processes in Ethical Management Behavior.Nicki Marquardt - 2010 - Ethics and Behavior 20 (2):128 – 148.
Is Alignment Always the Result of Automatic Priming?Robert M. Krauss & Jennifer S. Pardo - 2004 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (2):203-204.


Added to PP index

Total views
144 ( #61,155 of 2,333,198 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
11 ( #53,855 of 2,333,198 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes