Teleological Essentialism: Generalized

David Rose, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


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)
Article numbere12818
JournalCognitive science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Artifacts
  • Essentialism
  • Natural kinds
  • Teleology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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