An associative account of inferences: The development towards the prototype

Marco Mazzone


Abstract: According to a traditional view, inferences are personal-level entities pertaining to the domain of reasons, and therefore they cannot be accounted for in causal terms – specifically, as mere associations. I intend to argue that this is at the very least a drastic simplification, for two reasons. First, the word “association” is polysemous, so we should specify in which of its possible senses an inference is not a mere association. Second, personal-level inferences based on formal rules are only the extreme end of a complex developmental trajectory. As the last decades of research in the field have shown, we should refrain from identifying the entire domain of reasoning with that final stage, which is in fact mostly contingent upon extensive logical training. In this paper, I try to disentangle some major stages in the development of full-fledged (prototypical) inferences, and then to show that all of them – till the final one – can be considered associative in appropriate senses of the word.

Keywords: Reasoning; Association; Consciousness; Inference; Development


Un approccio associativo alle inferenze: l’evoluzione verso il prototipo

Riassunto: Secondo una concezione tradizionale, le inferenze sono entità collocate al livello della persona e appartenenti al dominio delle ragioni, e pertanto non è possibile ridurle a un resoconto causale – più specificamente, a mere associazioni. Intendo sostenere che questa è quanto meno una drastica semplificazione, per due ragioni. Primo, la parola “associazione” è polisemica, quindi dovremmo precisare in quale senso un’inferenza non è una mera associazione. Secondo, inferenze al livello della persona e basate su regole formali sono solo il punto estremo di una complessa traiettoria di sviluppo. Come gli ultimi decenni di ricerca in questo campo hanno mostrato, dovremmo evitare di identificare l’intero dominio del ragionamento con questo stadio finale, che di fatto dipende da un esteso addestramento logico. In questo articolo, provo a discriminare alcuni stadi essenziali nello sviluppo delle inferenze in senso pieno (prototipiche), e quindi a mostrare che ciascuno di essi – incluso quello finale – possono essere considerati associativi in qualche opportuno senso della parola.

Parole chiave: Ragionamento; Associazione; Coscienza; Inferenza; Sviluppo

Parole chiave

Reasoning; Association; Consciousness; Inference; Development

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