Teleological Essentialism: Generalized

David Rose, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e12818
JournalCognitive science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2020



  • Artifacts
  • Essentialism
  • Natural kinds
  • Teleology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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