Separability and the Effect of Valence An Empirical Study of Thick Concepts

Conference PaperPeer-reviewed
Pascale Willemsen, Kevin Reuter
Willemsen, Pascale; Reuter, Kevin (2020). Separability and the Effect of Valence. Proceedings of the 42th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society 2020, pp. 794-800.
Publication year: 2020

Thick terms and concepts, such as honesty and cruelty, 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 and whether they can be separated from each other. 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 empirical study, designed to investigate whether the evaluative component of thick concepts can be separated. Our study might be considered to support the view that separation is not possible. However, our study also reveals an effect of valence, indicating that people reason differently about positive and negative thick terms. While evaluations cannot be cancelled for negative thick terms, they can be for positive ones. 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.

Marbles in inaction: Counterfactual simulation and causation by omissions

Conference PaperPeer-reviewed
Simon Stephan, Pascale Willemsen, Tobias Gerstenberg
Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society 2017, pp. 1132-1137
Publication year: 2017

Consider the following causal explanation: The ball went through the goal because the defender didn’t block it. There are at least two problems with citing omissions as causal explanations. First, how do we choose the relevant candidate omission (e.g. why the defender and not the goalkeeper). Second, how do we determine what would have happened in the relevant counterfactual situation (i.e. maybe the shot would still have gone through the goal even if it had been blocked). In this paper, we extend the counterfactual simulation model (CSM) of causal judgment (Gerstenberg, Goodman, Lagnado, & Tenenbaum, 2014) to handle the second problem. In two experiments, we show how people’s causal model of the situation affects their causal judgments via influencing what counterfactuals they consider. Omissions are considered causes to the extent that the outcome in the relevant counterfactual situation would have been different from what it actually was.

How the truth can make a great lie: An empirical investigation of lying by falsely implicating

Conference PaperPeer-reviewed
Alex Wiegmann, Pascale Willemsen
Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society 2017, pp. 3516-3521.
Publication year: 2017

Is it possible to lie despite not saying anyhing false? While the spontaneous answer seems to be ‘no’, there is some evidence from ordinary language that a lie does not require what is said to be believed-false. In this paper, we will argue for a pragmatic extension of the standard definition of lying. More specifically, we will present three experiments which show that people’s concept of lying is not about what is said, but about what is implied by saying it that way. We test three Gricean conversational maxims. For each one of them we demonstrate that if a speaker implies something misleading, even by saying something semantically true, it is still considered lying.