Moral asymmetries and the semantics of many

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Paul Egré
Florian Cova


We present the results of four experiments concerning the evaluations people make of sentences involving many, showing that two sentences of the form many As are Bs and many As are Cs need not be equivalent when evaluated relative to a background in which B and C have the same cardinality and proportion to A, but in which B and C are predicates with opposite semantic and affective values. The data provide evidence that subjects lower the standard relevant to ascribe many for the more negatively valued predicate, and that judgments involving many are sensitive to moral considerations in a broad sense, namely to expectations involving a representation of the desirability as opposed to the mere probability of an outcome. We relate the results to similar semantic asymmetries discussed in the psychological literature, in particular to the Knobe effect and to framing effects.

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Paul Egré, Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS

I am a CNRS Reserch Fellow, currently based at Institut Jean-Nicod in Paris. My research is at the intersection of epistemology, logic and language. A significant part of my recent research is on the semantics and epistemology of vagueness.