Reasoning with deontic and counterfactual conditionals

Thinking and Reasoning 9 (1):43 – 65 (2003)
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We report two new phenomena of deontic reasoning: (1) For conditionals with deontic content such as, "If the nurse cleaned up the blood then she must have worn rubber gloves", reasoners make more modus tollens inferences (from "she did not wear rubber gloves" to "she did not clean up the blood") compared to conditionals with epistemic content. (2) For conditionals in the subjunctive mood with deontic content, such as, "If the nurse had cleaned up the blood then she must have had to wear rubber gloves", reasoners make the same frequency of all inferences as they do for conditionals in the indicative mood with deontic content. In this regard, subjunctive deontics are different from subjunctive epistemic conditionals: reasoners interpret subjunctive epistemic conditionals as counterfactual and they make more negative inferences such as modus tollens from them. The experiments show these two phenomena occur for deontic conditionals that contain the modal auxiliary "must" and ones that do not. We discuss the results in terms of the mental representations of deontic conditionals and of counterfactual conditionals.



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Ruth Mary Josephine Byrne
Trinity College, Dublin