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Cognition. 1996 Jul;60(1):1-29.

Intention, history, and artifact concepts.

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Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson 85721, USA.


What determines our intuitions as to which objects are members of specific artifact kinds? Prior research suggests that factors such as physical appearance, current use, and intended function are not at the core of concepts such as chair, clock and pawn. The theory presented here, based on Levinson's (1993) intentional-historical theory of our concept of art, is that we determine that something is a member of a given artifact kind by inferring that it was successfully created with the intention to belong to that kind. This theory can explain why some properties (such as shape) are more important than others (such as color) when we determine kind membership and can account for why certain objects are judged to be members of artifact kinds even though they are highly dissimilar from other members of the kinds. It can also provide a framework for explaining the conditions under which broken objects cease to be members of their kinds and new artifacts can come into existence. This account of our understanding of artifact concepts is argued to be consistent with more general "essentialist" theories of our understanding of concepts corresponding to proper names and natural kind terms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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