45. What is alief?

Conceived by philosophy Tamar Gendler, “alief” is used like belief, but it’s more of an automatic reaction that is not necessary rational. Often, an alief conflicts with a belief, but we act on our alief even though we believe otherwise.

For example, I can believe that something is safe, but I can still get scared and act like it’s not–like walking on a sky bridge.

To have an alief is to a reasonable approximation, to have an innate or habitual propensity to respond to an apparent stimulus in a particular way. It is to be in a mental state that is… associative, automatic and arational. As a class, aliefs are states that we share with non-human animals; they are developmentally and conceptually antecedent to other cognitive attitudes that the creature may go on to develop. Typically, they are also affect-laden and action-generating.

Gendler, Tamar, “Alief in action (and reaction)”, Mind and Language, 23(5): 552–585.

Okay, now that I learned a little bit about what alief means, I’m wondering if it’s even useful and necessary to have a word for this concept or if the concept is coherent? The concept is similar to instinct, but basically an instinct that conflicts with our more rational beliefs.

But I don’t know if an alief is really that different than a belief. We believe conflicting things all the time, and the version of rationality that makes alief possible assume that rationality is not conflicting, when I think it very well can be. (I can believe something is safe and also believe that it is not safe at all, and all of that is quite rational).

Some of examples of alief are being scared on a sky bridge, crying during a fictional movie, or acting on a bias that we know is wrong. And these things are very different from each other, so I’m not inclined to think that this concept is entirely useful.

Further reading:

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