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Thick concepts like courage and intolerance are at the heart of a variety of debates in linguistics, philosophy of language, and metaethics. Central to these debates is the question of how the descriptive and evaluative components of thick concepts are related. So far, no empirical data on how thick terms are used in ordinary language has been collected to inform these debates. In this paper, we present the first set of empirical studies, designed to investigate whether the evaluative component of thick concepts is communicated by means of semantics or pragmatics. Our studies not only favor the semantic view, they also reveal an effect of valence, indicating that people reason differently about positive and negative thick terms. Three follow-up studies were conducted to explain this effect. We conclude that the effect of valence is best accounted for by a difference in the social norms guiding evaluative language.

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