Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 251–265 | Cite as

Explicit Reasons, Implicit Stereotypes and the Effortful Control of the Mind



Research in psychology clearly shows that implicit biases contribute significantly to our behaviour. What is less clear, however, is whether we are responsible for our implicit biases in the same way that we are responsible for our explicit beliefs. Neil Levy has argued recently that explicit beliefs are special with regard to the responsibility we have for them, because they unify the agent. In this paper we point out multiple ways in which implicit biases also unify the agent. We then examine Levy’s claim that the assertibility of explicit beliefs means that they have a unique way of unifying the agent by being available for syntactical operations. We accept that syntactical operations are important, but worry that they are less straightforwardly connected to the unification of agents than Levy claims.


Explicit reasons Implicit biases Moral responsibility Assertibility Control Mental actions 


  1. Arpaly N (2002) Unprincipled virtue: an inquiry into moral agency. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  2. Avenanti A, Sirigu A, Aglioti SM (2010) Racial bias reduces empathic sensorimotor resonance with other-race pain. Curr Biol 20(11):1018–1022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister RF, Vohs KD, Tice DM (2007) The strength model of self-control. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 16(6):351–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burgess D, Borgida E (1999) Who women are, who women should be: descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotyping in sex discrimination. Psychol Public Policy Law 5(3):665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carruthers P (2007) The illusion of conscious will. Synthese 159:197–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark A (2006) Material symbols. Philos Psychol 19(3):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dasgupta N, Asgari S (2004) Seeing is believing: Exposure to counterstereotypic women leaders and its effect on the malleability of automatic gender stereotyping. J Exp Soc Psychol 40(5):642–658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis MH, Conklin L, Smith A, Luce C (1996) Effect of perspective taking on the cognitive representation of persons: a merging of self and other. J Pers Soc Psychol 70(4):713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dennett D (1998) Reflections on language and mind. In: Carruthers P, Boucher J (eds) Language and thought: interdisciplinary themes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 284–94Google Scholar
  10. Dovidio JF, Gaertner SE, Kawakami K, Hodson G (2002) Why can’t we just get along? Interpersonal biases and interracial distrust. Cult Divers Ethn Minor Psychol 8(2):88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fiske ST, Stevens LE (1993) What’s so special about sex? Gender stereotyping and discrimination. Sage Publications, IncGoogle Scholar
  12. Galinsky AD, Moskowitz GB (2000) Perspective-taking: decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. J Pers Soc Psychol 78(4):708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gigerenzer, G. (2008). Rationality for mortals: how people cope with uncertainty. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenwald AG, Krieger LH (2006) Implicit bias: scientific foundations. Calif Law Rev 94(4):945–967CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Greenwald AG, Poehlman TA, Uhlmann EL, Banaji MR (2009a) Understanding and using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta-analysis of predictive validity. J Pers Soc Psychol 97(1):17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Greenwald AG, Smith CT, Sriram N, Bar-Anan Y, Nosek BA (2009b) Implicit race attitudes predicted vote in the 2008 US presidential election. Anal Soc Issues Public Policy 9(1):241–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haidt J (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychol Rev 108(4):814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hieronymi P (2009) Two kinds of mental agency. In: O’Brien L, Soteriou M (eds) Mental actions. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 138–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hoffman C, Hurst N (1990) Gender stereotypes: perception or rationalization? J Pers Soc Psychol 58(2):197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holton R (2009) Willing, wanting, waiting. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jost JT, Banaji MR (1994) The role of stereotyping in system justification and the production of false consciousness. Br J Soc Psychol 33(1):1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kiefer AK, Sekaquaptewa D (2007) Implicit stereotypes and women’s math performance: how implicit gender-math stereotypes influence women’s susceptibility to stereotype threat. J Exp Soc Psychol 43(5):825–832CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. King M, Carruthers P (2012) Moral responsibility and consciousness. J Moral Philos 9(2):200–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levy N (2011) Expressing who we are: moral responsibility and awareness of our reasons for action. Anal Philos 52(4):243–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levy N (2014) Consciousness, implicit attitudes and moral responsibility. Noûs 48(1), 21–40Google Scholar
  26. Mele A (2009) Mental actions a case study. In: O’Brien L, Soteriou M (eds) Mental actions. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 17–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nosek BA, Banaji M, Greenwald AG (2002) Harvesting implicit group attitudes and beliefs from a demonstration web site. Group Dyn: Theory, Res, Pract 6(1):101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pettit P, McGeer V (2002) The self-regulating mind. Lang Commun 22:281–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Project Implicit (2011.) Web. Last accessed: 2 July 2013. <>.
  30. Rooth DO (2010) Automatic associations and discrimination in hiring: real world evidence. Labour Econ 17(3):523–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rudman LA, Glick P (2001) Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. J Soc Issues 57(4):743–762CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schmid Mast M (2004) Men are hierarchical, women are egalitarian: an implicit gender stereotype. Swiss J Psychol 63(2):107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schwarz N, Sanna LJ, Skurnik I, Yoon C (2007) Metacognitive experiences and the intricacies of setting people straight: implications for debiasing and public information campaigns. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 39:127–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stanley DA, Sokol-Hessner P, Banaji MR, Phelps EA (2011) Implicit race attitudes predict trustworthiness judgments and economic trust decisions. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108(19):7710–7715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Strawson G (2003) ‘Mental ballistics or the involuntariness of spontaneity.’ Meeting of the Aristotelian Society, University of London, 28 April.Google Scholar
  36. Todd AR, Bodenhausen GV, Richeson JA, Galinsky AD (2011) Perspective taking combats automatic expressions of racial bias. J Pers Soc Psychol 100(6):1027CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vargas M (2013) Situationism and moral responsibility: free will in fragments. Decomposing the Will, 325–49Google Scholar
  38. Vierkant T (2012) What metarepresentation is for. In: Beran M, Brandl J, Perner J, Proust J (eds) The foundations of metacognition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 279–288Google Scholar
  39. Vierkant T (2013b) Managerial control and free mental agency. In: Vierkant T, Clark A, Kiverstein J (eds) Decomposing will. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 283–297Google Scholar
  40. Vierkant T, Paraskevaides A (2012) Mindshaping and the intentional control of the mind. In: Paglieri F, Castelfranchi C (eds) Consciousness in Interaction. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp 105–124Google Scholar
  41. Wegner DM (2002) The illusion of conscious will. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Wilson T (2002) Strangers to ourselves; discovering the adaptive unconscious. Belknap, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy Psychology and Language SciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations