Chapter

The Puzzles of <i>If</i>

Philip N. Johnson-Laird

in How We Reason

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199551330
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191701580 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199551330.003.0021
The Puzzles of If

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This chapter illustrates how theory can be used to solve puzzles of if. The answer to the puzzle lies in the fact that if has diverse interpretations which are the result of the interaction of several simple components in its interpretation. These components also occur in different combinations in the interpretation of other connectives. Once the meaning of if has been pinned down in this way, a straightforward account of reasoning emerges and this is used to explain why the Chernobyl inference is difficult. The chapter specifically discusses these components, and it sketches some alternative accounts to throw them into relief. The chapter also reviews evidence that helps to clarify the theory. The solutions to the puzzles of conditionals depend on three essential points: a conditional is understood as referring to a set of possibilities, but all of the possibilities is rarely considered; a conditional often elicits temporal, spatial, or other sorts of relationships between the situation described in its if-clause and the situation described in its then-clause; and the logical interpretation of a conditional can occur, and modulation can even make some of its paradoxical consequences more plausible.

Keywords: puzzles of if; theory; Chernobyl inference; conditionals; if-clause

Chapter.  6123 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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