Making Ranking Theory Useful for Psychology of Reasoning

Dissertation, University of Konstanz (2014)
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An organizing theme of the dissertation is the issue of how to make philosophical theories useful for scientific purposes. An argument for the contention is presented that it doesn’t suffice merely to theoretically motivate one’s theories, and make them compatible with existing data, but that philosophers having this aim should ideally contribute to identifying unique and hard to vary predictions of their theories. This methodological recommendation is applied to the ranking-theoretic approach to conditionals, which emphasizes the epistemic relevance and the expression of reason relations as part of the semantics of the natural language conditional. As a first step, this approach is theoretically motivated in a comparative discussion of other alternatives in psychology of reasoning, like the suppositional theory of conditionals, and novel approaches to the problems of compositionality and accounting for the objective purport of indicative conditionals are presented. In a second step, a formal model is formulated, which allows us to derive quantitative predictions from the ranking-theoretic approach, and it is investigated which novel avenues of empirical research that this model opens up for. Finally, a treatment is given of the problem of logical omniscience as it concerns the issue of whether ranking theory (and other similar approaches) makes too idealized assumptions about rationality to allow for interesting applications in psychology of reasoning. Building on the work of Robert Brandom, a novel solution to this problem is presented, which both opens up for new perspectives in psychology of reasoning and appears to be capable of satisfying a range of constraints on bridge principles between logic and norms of reasoning, which would otherwise stand in a tension.

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Niels Skovgaard-Olsen
University of Freiburg


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