Stereotypical Inferences: Philosophical Relevance and Psycholinguistic Toolkit

Ratio 30 (4):411-442 (2017)
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Stereotypes shape inferences in philosophical thought, political discourse, and everyday life. These inferences are routinely made when thinkers engage in language comprehension or production: We make them whenever we hear, read, or formulate stories, reports, philosophical case-descriptions, or premises of arguments – on virtually any topic. These inferences are largely automatic: largely unconscious, non-intentional, and effortless. Accordingly, they shape our thought in ways we can properly understand only by complementing traditional forms of philosophical analysis with experimental methods from psycholinguistics. This paper seeks, first, to bring out the wider philosophical relevance of stereotypical inference, well beyond familiar topics like gender and race. Second, we wish to provide philosophers with a toolkit to experimentally study these ubiquitous inferences and what intuitions they may generate. This paper explains what stereotypes are, and why they matter to current and traditional concerns in philosophy – experimental, analytic, and applied. It then assembles a psycholinguistic toolkit and demonstrates through two studies how potentially questionnaire-based measures can be combined with process measures to garner evidence for specific stereotypical inferences and study when they ‘go through’ and influence our thinking.
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