Unconscious Rationalization, or: How (Not) to Think about Awfulness and Death

Abstract

Many contemporary epistemologists take rational inference to be a conscious action performed by the thinker (Boghossian 2014; 2018; Valaris 2014; Malmgren 2018). It is tempting to think that rational evaluability requires responsibility, which in turn requires conscious action. In that case, unconscious cognition involves merely associative or otherwise arational processing. This paper argues instead for deep rationalism: unconscious inference often exhibits the same rational status and richly structured logical character as conscious inference. The central case study is rationalization, in which people shift their attitudes in logically structured, reason-responsive ways in response to evidence of their own incompetence or immorality. These attitude shifts are irrational in a way that reflects on the thinker. Thus rationally evaluable inference extends downward into the unconscious. Many take the sole aim of belief to be truth (Velleman 2000) or knowledge (Williamson 2000), but the prevalence of rationalization suggests that belief updating often aims instead at preserving our positive conceptions of ourselves—that is, belief updating is part of a psychological immune system (Gilbert 2006; Mandelbaum 2019). This paper argues that the psychological immune system comprises a suite of distinct cognitive mechanisms, some (ir)rational and some arational, which are united by a common function of avoiding the maladaptive predomination of negative affect and maintaining stable motivation. Other aspects of the psychological immune system include (i) a domain-general positive bias in evaluative attitudes and (ii) “terror management,” i.e., the systematic strengthening of meaning-conferring beliefs to avoid death anxiety. The multiplicity of processes underlying the psychological immune system point toward an irrational but adaptive function of cognition to keep us motivated in a world rife with negativity and death.

Links

PhilArchive

External links

  • This entry has no external links. Add one.
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

  • Only published works are available at libraries.

Similar books and articles

Psychoanalysis and the Practical Inference Mode.Thomas Donaldson - 1978 - Philosophy Research Archives 4:1-16.
The emergence of consciousness: BUC versus SOC.Ron Sun - 2002 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (3):355-356.
Unconscious knowledge: A survey.Luis M. Augusto - 2010 - Advances in Cognitive Psychology 6:116-141.
An Archetypal Mental Coding Process.Robert Langs - 2014 - Biosemiotics 7 (2):299-307.
The conscious and the unconscious: A package deal.Martin Kurthen - 2002 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (3):343-344.
Fechner as a pioneering theorist of unconscious cognition.David Romand - 2012 - Consciousness and Cognition 21 (1):562-572.
Accommodating unconscious beliefs.Luis M. Augusto - 2010 - Princípios 17 (28):129-154.
Literal Perceptual Inference.Alex Kiefer - 2017 - In Metzinger Thomas & Wiese Wanja (eds.), Philosophy and Predictive Processing. MIND Group.
Realization and unconscious inference.John Williamson - 1966 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 27 (September):11-26.
Dispensing with the dynamic unconscious.Gerard O'Brien & Jon Jureidini - 2002 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 9 (2):141-153.

Analytics

Added to PP
2020-01-27

Downloads
1,198 (#10,445)

6 months
259 (#9,165)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Jake Quilty-Dunn
Rutgers - New Brunswick

Citations of this work

Being Rational and Being Wrong.Kevin Dorst - 2023 - Philosophers' Imprint 23 (1).

Add more citations

References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Kritik der reinen Vernunft.Immanuel Kant - 2020 - Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.
Knowledge and its limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

View all 52 references / Add more references