Generics: Inference & Accommodation

December 6, 2019

In this talk, I aim to give an account of norms governing our uses of generic judgements (like “kangaroos have long tails”, “birds lay eggs”, or “logic talks are boring”), norms governing inference, and the relationship between generics and inference. This connection goes some way to explain why generics exhibit some very strange behaviour: Why is it, for example, that “birds lay eggs” seems true, while “birds are female” seems false, despite the fact that only female birds lay eggs? Generics exhibit this behaviour because they make inferences and explanations explicit, and inferences and explanations have exactly the same sort of behaviour as generics.

Given the connection between generics and inference, we will be able to see how inference is involved in the process of accommodation, which plays a significant role in how we manage dialogue and conversation. A generic of the form Fs are Gs can enter the common ground when we allow the inference from Fx to Gx to pass without question in conversation. With this connection in hand, I will begin to explore what this means for social kind generics and how we use them.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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