CE28 - Cognition, éducation, formation tout au long de la vie

Between Language and Reasoning – LANG-REASON

Submission summary

The human capacity for reasoning underlies our ability to be effective in our interactions with the world around us, from mundane tasks such as planning a dinner party, to modern high-stakes situations such as deciding which of a number of financial products to invest in. However, thanks especially to work started in the second half of the twentieth century by Wason (1968) and Tversky and Kahneman (1974), we know now that human reasoning is liable to highly systematic and pervasive failures. These failures have so far overwhelmingly been seen as indicative of the properties and the limits of the general purpose faculty for reasoning, but in fact there is another very plausible source of failures of reasoning. When faced with a reasoning or decision-making problem, experimental subjects and humans in naturally occurring situations will typically be faced with two tasks rather than just one: first, they must interpret the problem in question, which almost invariably involves constructing a mental representation from a linguistically presented message, then they must manipulate that mental representation using their faculty for reasoning to derive a new mental representation of a conclusion. Consequently, it is possible that, rather than being the result of faulty reasoning, some important classes of what appear to be failures of reasoning are in fact the result of sound reasoning working on non-obvious but rational and entirely predictable interpretations of the premises in question.

We aim to investigate the line between linguistic interpretation and general-purpose reasoning in novel ways. We will (i.1) develop integrated theories of interpretation and reasoning that combine insights from linguistics and psychology; (i.2) apply sophisticated and formally explicit theories from formal semantics and pragmatics to reasoning problems, to develop strictly interpretation-based alternative theories of representative fallacies; (ii) test the predictions of new interpretive theories against the reasoning-based theories; (iii) recruit psycholinguistic methods that can steer interpretive processes, so as to develop new ways to improve rationality in humans for cases of reasoning failures that are in fact based on interpretive processes.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Salvador Mascarenhas (Institut Jean-Nicod — Ecole Normale Supérieure)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IJN—ENS Institut Jean-Nicod — Ecole Normale Supérieure

Help of the ANR 335,119 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2018 - 36 Months

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