Conditional reasoning and causation

Abstract

An experiment was conducted to investigate the relative contributions of syntactic form and content to conditional reasoning. The content domain chosen was that of causation. Conditional statements that described causal relationships (if (cause>, then (effect>) were embedded in simple arguments whose entailments are governed by the rules -oftruth-functional logic (i.e., modus ponens, modus tollens, denying the antecedent, and affirming the consequent). The causal statements differed in terms ofthe number of alternative causes and disabling conditions that characterized the causal relationship. (A disabling condition is an event that prevents an effect from occurring even though a relevant cause is present.) Subjects were required to judge whether or not each argument’s conclusion could be accepted. Judgments were found to vary systematically with the number of alternative causes and disabling conditions. Conclusions of arguments based on conditionals with few alternative causes or disabling conditionswerefoun~d:tobe-rnore accept~ able than cdnclusions based on those with many.

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