Mental representation and the is-ought distinction

by Error 1 min read20th Apr 201514 comments


I'm reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. In appendix B I came across the following comment. Emphasis mine:

Studies of language comprehension indicate that people quickly recode much of what they hear into an abstract representation that no longer distinguishes whether the idea was expressed in an active or in a passive form and no longer discriminates what was actually said from what was implied, presupposed, or implicated (Clark and Clark 1977).

My first thought on seeing this is: holy crap, this explains why people insist on seeing relevance claims in my statements that I didn't put there. If the brain doesn't distinguish statement from implicature, and my conversational partner believes that A implies B when I don't, then of course I'm going to be continually running into situations where people model me as saying and believing B when I actually only said A. At a minimum this will happen any time I discuss any question of seemingly-morally-relevant fact with someone who hasn't trained themselves to make the is-ought distinction. Which is most people.

The next thought my brain jumped to: This process might explain the failure to make the is-ought distinction in the first place. That seems like much more of a leap, though. I looked up the Clark and Clark cite. Unfortunately it's a fairly long book that I'm not entirely sure I want to wade through. Has anyone else read it? Can someone offer more details about exactly what findings Kahneman is referencing?