Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2012

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Philosophy/Neuroscience, and Psychology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



What kind of mistakes are slips? Why do they happen?

The dissertation seeks to address these questions and to derive from their answers a more realistic understanding of everyday human action. The inspiration comes from psycholinguistics, where slips have played a central role in the construction of models of speech production. Non-linguistic slips have received considerably less attention. But these slips can play a similar role in thinking about human action in general. This is the guiding hypothesis of this dissertation. Speaking is one way of acting. And the success of non-linguistic action depends upon trade-offs (accuracy, speed, timeliness) similar to those that shape speech production.

In general, the view I defend is that slips are side effects of an efficient psychology: the price to pay for being able to act without having to think too much. As such, slips challenge traditional philosophical views that understand actions as behaviors guided by practical syllogisms of beliefs and desires. Taking this challenge seriously, in turn, involves recognizing how much of human action is shaped directly by habits, routines, and environmentally salient features.

To develop the view, I distinguish different kinds of intentions, propose a model to understand how automaticity makes rational behavior possible, and identify certain limitations of belief-desire psychology. In addition, I derive consequences for the metaphysics of action and theories of responsibility.

The argument combines philosophical discussions of agency with findings from psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Roy Sorensen

Committee Members

John Doris, John Heil, Ron Mallon, Simine Vazire, Jeff Zacks


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7251G50

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