These boots are made for walking: Teleological generalizations from principled connections

AbstractCertain generalizations are teleological, e.g., forks are for eating. But not all properties relevant to a particular concept permit teleological generalization. For instance, forks get washed roughly as often as they’re used for eating, yet the generalization, forks are for washing, might strike reasoners as unacceptable. What explains the discrepancy? A recent taxonomic theory of conceptual generalization (Prasada, 2017; Prasada & Dillingham, 2006; Prasada et al., 2013) argues that certain kinds of conceptual connections – known as “principled” connections – license generalizations, whereas associative, “statistical” connections license only probabilistic expectations. We apply this taxonomy to explain teleological generalization: it predicts that acceptable teleological generalizations concern concept-property pairs in which the concept bears a principled connection to a property. Under this analysis, the concept fork bears a principled connection to eating and a statistical connection to washing. Two experiments and a regression analysis tested and corroborated the predictions of the theory.

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