Artifacts and Essentialism

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (3):449-463 (2013)
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Psychological essentialism is an intuitive folk belief positing that certain categories have a non-obvious inner “essence” that gives rise to observable features. Although this belief most commonly characterizes natural kind categories, I argue that psychological essentialism can also be extended in important ways to artifact concepts. Specifically, concepts of individual artifacts include the non-obvious feature of object history, which is evident when making judgments regarding authenticity and ownership. Classic examples include famous works of art (e.g., the Mona Lisa is authentic because of its provenance), but ordinary artifacts likewise receive value from their history (e.g., a worn and tattered blanket may have special value if it was one’s childhood possession). Moreover, in some cases, object history may be thought to have causal effects on individual artifacts, much as an animal essence has causal effects. I review empirical support for these claims and consider the implications for both artifact concepts and essentialism. This perspective suggests that artifact concepts cannot be contained in a theoretical framework that focuses exclusively on similarity or even function. Furthermore, although there are significant differences between essentialism of natural kinds and essentialism of artifact individuals, the commonalities suggest that psychological essentialism may not derive from folk biology but instead may reflect more domain-general perspectives on the world



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Author's Profile

Susan Gelman
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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Mind, Language and Reality: Philosophical Papers.Hilary Putnam - 1975 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
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