Lingering stereotypes: Salience bias in philosophical argument

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Many philosophical thought experiments and arguments involve unusual cases. We present empirical reasons to doubt the reliability of intuitive judgments and conclusions about such cases. Inferences and intuitions prompted by verbal case descriptions are influenced by routine comprehension processes which invoke stereotypes. We build on psycholinguistic findings to determine conditions under which the stereotype associated with the most salient sense of a word predictably supports inappropriate inferences from descriptions of unusual (stereotype-divergent) cases. We conduct an experiment that combines plausibility ratings with pupillometry to document this ‘salience bias’: We find that under certain conditions, competent speakers automatically make stereotypical inferences they know to be inappropriate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-439
Number of pages25
JournalMind and Language
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • comprehension inferences
  • non-contextual salience
  • philosophical intuitions
  • philosophical method
  • pupillometry
  • stereotypes

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