Alief and Belief

by Tamar Szabó Gendler

Journal of Philosophy (Volume 105, Issue 10, pp. 634-663) 2008
  • Philosophy

I introduce and argue for the importance of a cognitive state that I call alief. Paradigmatic alief can be characterized as a mental state with associatively-linked content that is representational, affective and behavioral, and that is activated – consciously or unconsciously – by features of the subject’s internal or ambientenvironment. Alief is a more primitive state than either belief or imagination: it directly activates behavioral response patterns (as opposed to motivating in conjunction with desire or pretended desire.) I argue that alief explains a large number of otherwise perplexing phenomena and plays a far larger role in causing behavior than has typically been recognized by philosophers. I argue further that the notion can be invoked to explain both the effectiveness and the limitations of certain sorts of example-based reasoning, and that it lies at the core of habit-based views of ethics.