In Defense of Weird Hypotheticals




Professor Allen (this issue) critiques the value of using “weird” hypotheticals to mine intuitions about legal systems. I respond by supporting the value of “thin” hypotheticals for providing information about how people reason generally, rather than for revealing peoples’ specific answers. I note that because legal systems are the products of many minds thinking about how other minds operate, the object of inquiry is metacognition—that is, understanding how reasoning works.

Palabras clave

legal epistemology, reasoning, metacognition, psychology and law


Allen, R.J. (this issue): «Naturalized epistemology and the law of evidence revisited»

Allen, R.J. and Leiter, B., 2001: «Naturalized epistemology and the law of evidence», in Virginia Law Review, 87(8): 1491-1550.

Allen, R.J. and Pardo, M.S., 2019: «Relative plausibility and its critics», in International Journal of Evidence & Proof, 23(102): 5-58.

Cheng, P.W. & Holyoak, K.J., 1989: «On the natural selection of reasoning theories», in Cognition, 33(3): 285-313.

Cheng, P.W. and Novick, L.R., 1990: «A probabilistic contrast model of causal induction», in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4): 545-567.

Evans, J.S. and Stanovich, K.E., 2013: «Dual-process theories of higher cognition: Advancing the debate», in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(3): 223-241.

Foot, P., 1978: «The problem of abortion and the doctrine of the double effect», in Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 19-32.

Gigerenzer, G. and Hoffrage, U., 1995: «How to improve Bayesian reasoning without instruction: Frequency formats», in Psychological Review: 102(4), 684-704.

Gilbert, E, Tenney, E.R., Holland, C. and Spellman, B.A., 2015: «Counterfactuals, control, and causation: Why knowledgeable people get blamed more», in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(5): 643-658.

Hastie, R., 1999: «The role of stories in civil jury judgments», in University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 32(2): 227-240.

Henrich, J., Heine, S.J. and Norenzayan, A., 2010: «The weirdest people in the world?», in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3): 61-83.

Kahneman, D., 2011: Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Macmillan.

Kahneman, D. and Frederick, S., 2002: «Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment», in Gilovich, T,, Griffin, D. &

Kahneman D. (eds.), Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 49-81.

Kahneman, D. and Klein, G., 2009: «Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree», in American Psychologist, 64(6): 515-526.

Kahneman, D. and Tversky, A., 1982: «On the study of statistical intuitions», in Cognition, 11(2): 123-141.

Manktelow, K.I. and Evans, J. St. B., 1979: «Facilitation of reasoning by realism: Effect or non-effect?», in British Journal of Psychology, 70 (4): 477-488.

Niedermeyer, K.E., Kerr, N.L. and Messé, L.A., 1999: «Jurors’ use of naked statistical evidence: Exploring bases and implications of the Wells effect», in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76 (4): 533-542.

Peterson, C.R. and Beach, L.R., 1967: «Man as an intuitive statistician», in Psychological Bulletin, 68 (1): 29-46.

Petrocelli, J.V., Percy, E.J., Sherman, S.J. and Tormala, Z.L., 2011: «Counterfactual potency», in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100 (1): 30-46.

Quine, W.V.O., 1951: «Two dogmas of empiricism», in Philosophical Review, 60 (1): 20-43.

Roediger, H.L. and McDermott, K.B., 1995: «Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists», in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21 (4): 803-814.

Roese, N.J., 1997: «Counterfactual thinking», in Psychological Bulletin, 121 (1): 133-148.

Ryle, G., 1949: The Concept of Mind. New York: Harper & Row.

Saks, M.J. and Spellman, B.A., 2016: The Psychological Foundations of Evidence Law. New York: NYU Press.

Schauer, F., 2008: «A critical guide to vehicles in the park», in New York University Law Review, 83 (4): 1109-1134.

Schein, C., 2020: «The importance of context in moral judgments», in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15 (2): 207-215.

Smith, E.R. and DeCoster, J., 2000: «Dual-process models in social and cognitive psychology: Conceptual integration and links to underlying memory systems», in Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4 (2): 108-131.

Spellman, B.A. and Kincannon, A., 2000: «The relation between counterfactual (“but for”) and causal reasoning: Experimental findings and implications for jurors’ decisions», in Law and Contemporary Problems: Causation in Law and Science, 64 (4): 241-264.

Spellman, B.A., Kincannon, A. and Stose, S., 2005: «The relation between counterfactual and causal reasoning», in Mandel, D.R., Hilton, D.J., & Catellani, P. (eds.), The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, London: Routledge Research: 28-43.

Spellman, B.A. and Mandel, D.R., 1999: «When possibility informs reality: Counterfactual thinking as a cue to causality», in Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8 (4): 120-123.

Spellman, B.A. and Schnall, S., 2009: «Embodied rationality», in Queen’s Law Journal, 35 (1): 117- 164.

Tenney, E.R., Cleary, H.M.D. and Spellman, B.A., 2009: «Unpacking the doubt in “beyond a reasonable doubt”: Plausible alternative stories increase not guilty verdicts», in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 31 (1): 1-8, [Revised for legal application and published with response and replies as: «“This other dude did it!” A test of the alternative explanation defense», in The Jury Expert, 21 (4): 37-42.]

Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C.R., 2009: Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New York: Penguin.

Thomson, J.J., 1985: «The trolley problem», in Yale Law Journal, 94(6): 1395-1415.

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D., 1974: «Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases», in Science, 185 (4157): 1124-1131.

Wason, P.C., 1968: «Reasoning about a rule», in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 20 (3): 273-281.

Wells, G.L., 1992: «Naked statistical evidence of liability: Is subjective probability enough?», in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62 (5): 739-752.

Wright, E.F., Maceachern, L., Stoffer, E. and Macdonald, N., 1996: «Factors affecting the use of naked statistical evidence of liability», in Journal of Social Psychology, 136 (6): 677-688.

Biografía del autor/a

Barbara A Spellman, University of Virginia School of Law

Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology




Cómo citar

Spellman, B. A. (2021). In Defense of Weird Hypotheticals. Quaestio Facti. Revista Internacional Sobre Razonamiento Probatorio, (2), 325–338.