Pascale Willemsen & Judith Martens
Willemsen, P., & Martens, J (2023). Does evaluative language provide reasons to act? An empirical study of the action-guiding potential of evaluative concepts. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Publication year: 2023

What is the difference between language that describes the world and language that evaluates it? It has been suggested that an essential, distinguishing feature of evaluative language is its potential to guide actions by providing us with reasons to act. Calling an action “cruel” not only evaluates it negatively, its cruelty also provides us with a reason to refrain from it. Descriptive language, in and by itself, is relatively inert in this respect. In this paper, we examine whether this undisputed assumption is empirically adequate. We present three preregistered studies that demonstrate that evaluative language provides reasons for action when an agent contemplates how she should act, and also in conversational contexts. However, we also demonstrate that the speaker can easily deny the intention to provide such reasons to act.