Reasoning from uncertain premises

Thinking and Reasoning 3 (3):161 – 189 (1997)
Previous studies have shown that 1 participants are reluctant to accept a conclusion as certainly true when it is derived from a valid conditional argument that includes a doubtful premise, and 2 participants typically link the degree of uncertainty found in a given premise set to its conclusion. Two experiments were designed to further investigate these phenomena. Ninety adult participants in Experiment 1 were first asked to judge the validity of three conditional arguments Modus Ponens, Denial of the Antecedent, and Affirmation of the Consequent . They were then required to evaluate conclusion uncertainty as a function of two degrees of asserted uncertainty in the major conditional premise If p then it is very probable that q and if p then it is not very probable that q of the arguments from the first task that were otherwise unchanged. Results revealed an effect for asserted-uncertainty in two of the three argument forms. Marginal support was found for the hypothesis that perceived argument validity would be a predictor of performance. Experiment 2 investigated the way 40 adult participants combined two sources of asserted uncertainty, one in the major premise and another in the minor premise, when they had to score the uncertainty of the conclusion. The two most prominent kinds of responses were to choose the same likelihood as the weaker of the two expressed in the premises, or a lower one. However, the within-subject consistency was poor. Theoretical implications are discussed.
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