AuthorKelemen, Deborah Ann.
Committee ChairBloom, Paul
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractTeleological reasoning--reasoning that is based on the assumption of purpose, design or function--is a fundamental aspect of adult cognition. It leads us to think about the actions of others in terms of goals and to presume that people's creations are designed for a purpose. It also causes us to reason about biological entities in terms of functions and characterizes much of our metaphysical musing on life and meaning. This dissertation explores the nature and development of teleological thought in preschool children. One hypothesis ("Biology-Based Teleology") is that teleological thinking is an innate mode of construal which is limited to artifacts (such as clocks) and biological traits (such as eyes) and provides children with the core of a biological theory. This dissertation presents an alternative proposal ("Promiscuous Teleology"). It argues that children's teleological understanding develops from knowledge of intentional goal-directed behavior and is not inherently restricted to any particular category of phenomena. In the absence of scientific knowledge, children may draw upon intention-based teleological knowledge and--as many adults have done in the past--view all kinds or phenomena as intentionally caused for a purpose. Several studies are presented that explore the predictions of Promiscuous Teleology and Biology-Based Teleology regarding the scope of children's and adults' attribution of function to different kinds of entities and their parts. These studies lend support to the notion that children's teleological intuitions are unconstrained. In other words, that preschoolers broadly view natural objects (e.g., mountains), artifacts (e.g., clocks) and biological organisms (e.g., tigers) and their parts as "made for something." Further studies then explored possible explanations for these results by examining the relationship between children's and adults' concept of function. The findings suggest that children's beliefs about function are more influenced by the degree of intention involved in an activity than adults. The implications of these findings for notions of a "teleological stance" are discussed.