Generics and typicality: a bounded rationality approach

Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (1):83-117 (2020)
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Cimpian et al. observed that we accept generic statements of the form ‘Gs are f’ on relatively weak evidence, but that if we are unfamiliar with group G and we learn a generic statement about it, we still treat it inferentially in a much stronger way: all Gs are f. This paper makes use of notions like ‘representativeness’, ‘contingency’ and ‘relative difference’ from psychology to provide a uniform semantics of generics that explains why people accept generics based on weak evidence. The spirit of the approach has much in common with Leslie’s cognition-based ideas about generics, but the semantics will be grounded on a strengthening of Cohen’s relative readings of generic sentences. In contrast to Leslie and Cohen, we propose a uniform semantic analysis of generics. The basic intuition is that a generic of the form ‘Gs are f’ is true because f is typical for G, which means that f is valuably associated with G. We will make use of Kahneman and Tversky’s Heuristics and Biases approach, according to which people tend to confuse questions about probability with questions about representativeness, to explain pragmatically why people treat many generic statements inferentially in a much stronger way.



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References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 1980 - Philosophy 56 (217):431-433.
Naming and Necessity.S. Kripke - 1972 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 45 (4):665-666.

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