“Experts think…” The production and comprehension of propositional attitude generics

Matthew Haigh*, Hope Birch, Harry T. Clelland

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Propositional attitude generics such as “Experts think early humans ate grass” report an epistemic state (e.g., think, believe, say) that is generalised to a wider community (e.g., Experts, Scientists, Academics). These generics are often used in place of quantified claims (e.g., “Some experts think…”) but three pre-registered experiments (N = 4891) indicate that this lexical choice risks misrepresenting the true degree of scientific consensus. Relative to “Some experts think…” the generic “Experts think…” was more likely to be understood as “All Experts” or “Possibly all Experts” and less likely to invite the scalar inference “Not all Experts”. Consistent with this, the choice to use generic language became increasingly likely as expert consensus approached unanimity. Propositional attitude generics can imply a high degree of consensus and keep open the possibility of universal agreement. To avoid overgeneralization, they should be used with caution where the objective degree of consensus is unknown.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalThinking and Reasoning
Early online date30 Jun 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2024

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