, Volume 84, Issue 6, pp 1207–1228 | Cite as

Simplicity and the Meaning of Mental Association

  • Mike DaceyEmail author


Some thoughts just come to mind together. This is usually thought to happen because they are connected by associations, which the mind follows. Such an explanation assumes that there is a particular kind of simple psychological process responsible. This view has encountered criticism recently. In response, this paper aims to characterize a general understanding of associative simplicity, which might support the distinction between associative processing and alternatives. I argue that there are two kinds of simplicity that are treated as characteristic of association, and as a result three possible versions of associative processing. This provides a framework that informs our understanding of association as a current and historical concept, including how various specific versions in different parts of psychology relate to one another. This framework can also guide debates over normative evaluations of actions produced by processes thought to be associative.



This paper has been in preparation for some time, and has gone through several permutations, so it may not be possible to thank everyone who has helped. Thanks (in alphabetical order) to David Balota, Cameron Buckner, Carl Craver, David Danks, Jan De Houwer, John Doris, Jennifer Gruhn, Steve Horst, Ron Mallon, Lauren Olin, Sarah Robins, and Lizzie Schechter for comments on drafts. Thanks to participants in forums in which this material was presented, including several presentations at Washington University in St. Louis, a brown-bag lunch talk at Carnegie Mellon University in fall 2012 (thanks to David Danks for the invitation), the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology in Spring 2013, and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology in Summer 2015. Thanks to the Philosophy Departments at Washington University in St. Louis, Colby College, and Bates College for support. Finally, thanks to two anonymous reviewers. Apologies to any I may have missed.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bates CollegeLewistonUSA

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