Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 10 (2):135-146 (2021)

Pascale Willemsen
University of Zürich
Kevin Reuter
University of Zürich
Thick terms and concepts, such as honesty and cruelty, are at the heart of a variety of debates in 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 is communicated as part of the semantic meaning or by means of conversational implicatures. While neither the semantic nor the pragmatic view can fully account for the use of thick terms in ordinary language, our results do favour the semanticist interpretation: the evaluation of a thick concept is only slightly easier to cancel than semantically entailed content. We further discovered a polarity effect, demonstrating that how easily an evaluation can be cancelled depends on whether the thick term is of positive or negative polarity.
Keywords cancellability  conversational implicature  empirical study  evaluative language  experimental philosophy  moral judgements  polarity effect  thick concepts
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DOI 10.1002/tht3.488
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Studies in the Way of Words.Paul Grice - 1989 - Philosophy 65 (251):111-113.
The Epistemic Side-Effect Effect.James R. Beebe & Wesley Buckwalter - 2010 - Mind and Language 25 (4):474-498.

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