Teleological Essentialism: Generalized

Cognitive Science 44 (3) (2020)
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Abstract

Natural/social kind essentialism is the view that natural kind categories, both living and non-living natural kinds, as well as social kinds (e.g., race, gender), are essentialized. On this view, artifactual kinds are not essentialized. Our view—teleological essentialism—is that a broad range of categories are essentialized in terms of teleology, including artifacts. Utilizing the same kinds of experiments typically used to provide evidence of essentialist thinking—involving superficial change (study 1), transformation of insides (study 2) and inferences about offspring (study 3)—we find support for the view that a broad range of categories—living natural kinds, non-living natural kinds and artifactual kinds—are essentialized in terms of teleology. Study 4 tests a unique prediction of teleological essentialism and also provides evidence that people make inferences about purposes which in turn guide categorization judgments.

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Author Profiles

David Rose
Stanford University
Shaun Nichols
Cornell University