Send to

Choose Destination
Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Apr;17(4):166-71. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.02.006. Epub 2013 Mar 19.

Teleological reasoning about nature: intentional design or relational perspectives?

Author information

Psychology Department, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road-102 Swift Hall, Evanston, IL 60208-2710, USA.


According to the theory of 'promiscuous teleology', humans are naturally biased to (mistakenly) construe natural kinds as if they (like artifacts) were intentionally designed 'for a purpose'. However, this theory introduces two paradoxes. First, if infants readily distinguish natural kinds from artifacts, as evidence suggests, why do school-aged children erroneously conflate this distinction? Second, if Western scientific education is required to overcome promiscuous teleological reasoning, how can one account for the ecological expertise of non-Western educated, indigenous people? Here, we develop an alternative 'relational-deictic' interpretation, proposing that the teleological stance may not index a deep-rooted belief that nature was designed for a purpose, but instead may reflect an appreciation of the perspectival relations among living things and their environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center