Chapter

Beliefs about purpose: on the origins of teleological thought

Deborah Kelemen

in The Descent of Mind

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780192632593
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670497 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780192632593.003.0014
Beliefs about purpose: on the origins of teleological thought

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This chapter examines and speculates on some possible answers to questions on the nature of the teleological stance and why people are driven to think about the purpose of objects. It lays out some general assumptions and argues that adopting the teleological construal is not just something people find useful to do, but is something that they are compelled to do because of the way minds are designed. In support of this, the chapter briefly overviews some of the evidence demonstrating the pervasiveness of teleological ideas through human history and across cultures. It further discusses Jean Piaget's domain, generalist ideas on ‘childhood artificialism’, three ‘domain-specific’ hypotheses, Frank Keil's idea of ‘functional things’, and Scott Atran's argument that the stance evolved as part of a specialised mental module for classifying and reasoning about biological kinds. Finally, the chapter discusses the hypothesis on ‘Promiscuous Teleology’.

Keywords: teleological stance; objects; Jean Piaget; childhood artificialism; domain-specific hypotheses; Frank Keil; functional things; Scott Atran; Promiscuous Teleology

Chapter.  9138 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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