Teleological essentialism across development

Proceedings of the 44th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Do young children have a teleological conception of the essence of natural kinds? We tested this by examining how the preservation or alteration of an animal’s purpose affected children’s persistence judgments (N = 40, ages 4 - 12, Mean Age = 7.04, 61% female). We found that even when surface-level features of an animal (e.g., a bee) were preserved, if the entity’s purpose changed (e.g., the bee now spins webs), children were more likely to categorize the entity as a member of a different natural kind (e.g., a spider) and these effects were similar in magnitude to altering the surface-features of a natural kind. Our results suggest that we might view teleological properties as partially constitutive of the essence of natural kinds.

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Author Profiles

David Rose
Stanford University
Zachary Horne
Arizona State University
Shaun Nichols
Cornell University

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