Experimental ordinary language philosophy: a cross-linguistic study of defeasible default inferences

Synthese 198 (2):1029-1070 (2019)
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Abstract
This paper provides new tools for philosophical argument analysis and fresh empirical foundations for ‘critical’ ordinary language philosophy. Language comprehension routinely involves stereotypical inferences with contextual defeaters. J.L. Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia first mooted the idea that contextually inappropriate stereotypical inferences from verbal case-descriptions drive some philosophical paradoxes; these engender philosophical problems that can be resolved by exposing the underlying fallacies. We build on psycholinguistic research on salience effects to explain when and why even perfectly competent speakers cannot help making stereotypical inferences which are contextually inappropriate. We analyse a classical paradox about perception, suggest it relies on contextually inappropriate stereotypical inferences from appearance-verbs, and show that the conditions we identified as leading to contextually inappropriate stereotypical inferences are met in formulations of the paradox. Three experiments use a forced-choice plausibility-ranking task to document the predicted inappropriate inferences, in English, German, and Japanese. The cross-linguistic study allows us to assess the wider relevance of the proposed analysis. Our findings open up new perspectives for ‘evidential’ experimental philosophy.
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Archival date: 2019-01-07
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2019-01-07

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