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Conditional Probability and the Cognitive Science of Conditional Reasoning

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This paper addresses the apparent mismatch between the normative and descriptive literatures in the cognitive science of conditional reasoning. Descriptive psychological theories still regard material implication as the normative theory of the conditional. However, over the last 20 years in the philosophy of language and logic the idea that material implication can account for everyday indicative conditionals has been subject to severe criticism. The majority view is now apparently in favour of a subjective conditional probability interpretation. A comparative model fitting exercise is presented that shows that a conditional probability model can explain as much of the data on abstract indicative conditional reasoning tasks as psychological theories that supplement material implication with various rationally unjustified processing assumptions. Consequently, when people are asked to solve laboratory reasoning tasks, they can be seen as simply generalising their everyday probabilistic reasoning strategies to this novel context.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Cardiff University, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2003


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