Agora Speaker Series 2020 - Dr Talia Morag

  • -
  • Wollongong Campus
    LHA Research Hub, Building 19, Room 2072.

  • Undergraduate talk: 3.30pm to 4 pm
  • Break: 4 pm to 4.15 pm
  • Research talk: 4.15 pm to 5.30 pm


Freud, Hume, and the New Associationism

This paper examines contemporary associationism as a response to the explanatory challenge posed by reason recalcitrant behaviours, that do not subside despite the agent’s disavowal (e.g. recalcitrant emotions, recalcitrant biases). Social psychologists and philosophers characterize these behaviours as “implicit”: automatic and not intentional actions, which can be experimentally observed without people being aware that these are the behaviours that are being observed. Contemporary associationists [e.g. Payne and Gawronski 2010, Gendler 2008a, b] posit processes involving similarities and contiguities that are meant to reliably cause certain behaviours in certain circumstances, instilled in us through conditioning, and that are insensitive to reason or evidence.

However, a growing body of evidence shows that implicit behaviours sometimes respond to reasoning or evidence. Other empirical considerations undermine the presupposed reliability of associative processes and the conditioning that supposedly governs their manner of operation.

This paper addresses these empirical challenges by appropriating insights and oversights of two figures from the history of associationism, one familiar, Hume, and one surprizing, Freud.

I propose a new psychological associationism that 1) is not a global theory of mind like Hume’s, nor a theory of all “implicit” behaviours, but, inspired by Freud, limits its domain to affective behaviours (emotions, moods, sexuality, laughter); 2) embraces the “reproducibility crisis” and its conclusion that (affective) implicit behaviours, are relatively unreliable. Hume’s and Freud’s critics were right – associationist psychology is not scientific, even if empirical, an apparent oxymoron this paper aims to dissipate; 3) emphasizes, like Hume, the imaginative nature of associations, playing down the importance of contiguity in favor of similarity and other imaginative associations that one can find in Freud’s writings; and 4) adopts and re-constructs Freud’s “primary processes” of “condensation” and “displacement.”

I argue that this new associationism can account for both the reason recalcitrance and reason responsiveness of affective implicit behaviours.