Individual and Cross-Cultural Differences in Semantic Intuitions: New Experimental Findings

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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In 2004 Edouard Machery, Ron Mallon, Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich published what has become one of the most widely discussed papers in experimental philosophy, in which they reported that East Asian and Western participants had different intuitions about the semantic reference of proper names. A flurry of criticisms of their work has emerged, and although various replications have been performed, many critics remain unconvinced. We review the current debate over Machery et al.’s (2004) results and take note of which objections to their work have been satisfactorily answered and which ones still need to be addressed. We then report the results of studies that reveal significant cross-cultural and intra-cultural differences in semantic intuitions when we control for variables that critics allege have had a potentially distorting effect on Machery et al.’s findings. These variables include the epistemic perspective from which participants are supposed to understand the research materials, unintended anchoring effects of those materials, and pragmatic factors involved in the interpretation of speech acts within them. Our results confirm the robustness of the cross-cultural differences observed by Machery et al. and thereby strengthen the philosophical challenge they pose.

Individual and Cross-Cultural Differences in Semantic Intuitions: New Experimental Findings

in Journal of Cognition and Culture

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References

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Figures

  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean intuitions given to Gödel1 by Western (0.58) and East Asian (0.29) participants in Machery et al.’s (2004) original study and by Western (0.56) and East Asian (0.43) participants in Study 1. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals in all figures. An asterisk indicates a statistically significant difference between pairs of conditions: *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001 level.
  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean intuitions given to the Jonah cases by Western (0.61) and East Asian (0.66) participants in Machery et al.’s (2004) original study and by Western (0.39) and East Asian (0.25) participants in Study 1.
  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean intuitions given to the Jonah cases by Western (0.31) and East Asian (0.27) participants who correctly answered the comprehension questions correctly, Western (0.52) and East Asian (0.27) participants who did not answer the comprehension questions correctly, and Western (0.37) and East Asian (0.22) participants who did not complete the comprehension task in Study 1.
  • View in gallery
    Percentages of Western and East Asian participants with different Kripkean intuition scores in Study 1.
  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean responses to the clarified narrator’s perspective version of Gödel2 among Western (0.63) and East Asian (0.48) participants.
  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean responses to Gödel3 (us = 0.58, hk = 0.37) and Gödel4 (us = 0.67, hk = 0.43) in Study 2a.
  • View in gallery
    Proportions of Kripkean intuitions given to the Jonah cases by Western (0.47) and East Asian (0.34) participants in Study 2.
  • View in gallery
    Percentages of Western and East Asian participants with different Kripkean intuition scores in Study 2.

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