Modus Tollens, Modus Shmollens: Contrapositive reasoning and the pragmatics of negation


The utterance of a negative statement invites the pragmatic inference that some reason exists for the proposition it negates to be true; this pragmatic inference paves the way for the logically unexpected Modus Shmollens inference: “If p then q; not-q; therefore, p.” Experiment 1 shows that a majority of reasoners endorse Modus Shmollens from an explicit major conditional premise and a negative utterance as a minor premise: e.g., reasoners conclude that “the soup tastes like garlic” from the premises “If a soup tastes like garlic, then there is garlic in the soup; Carole tells Didier that there is no garlic in the soup they are eating.” Experiment 2 shows that this effect is mediated by the derivation of a pragmatic inference from negation. We discuss how theories of conditional reasoning can integrate such a pragmatic effect.

In Thinking & Reasoning, 13, 207-222