Titles and Abstracts to be Presented at The 46th Annual Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology


1. Teleological Essentialism and Boundary Intensification

Sophia Akel, Emma Moses, David Rose & Shaun Nichols

Description: Teleological—or Aristotelian—essentialism is the view that essence is represented by a kind of purpose or telos.  This contrasts with Lockean essentialism, which has it that essence is articulated in terms of a scientific essence. An important disagreement concerns whether artifacts are essentialized.  Lockean essentialists maintain that they are not; Aristotelians essentialists maintain that they are.  And an impressive range of evidence suggests that for some natural kind categories, like birds, items judged as less typical are judged as being full category members. This kind of boundary intensification, however, is not found for artifactual kinds, like furniture.  Domain differences in boundary intensification problematize teleological essentialism. We thus sought to provide evidence for teleological essentialism by demonstrating that we do in fact intensify boundaries for both natural kinds and artifacts based on teleology. And across four different studies, we provide evidence that people do indeed intensify category boundaries when they think items belonging to the category—whether viewed as typical (e.g., shelf) or atypical (e.g., rug)—possess the purpose of the category (e.g., furniture) and that this pattern arises across both artifactual and natural kinds.  These findings indicate that there are not in fact domain differences in boundary intensification.  And this is well explained by teleological or Aristotelian essentialism, not Lockean essentialism.


2. Teleological Essentialism: Generalized

David Rose & Shaun Nichols

Description: 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.


3. Cause and Burn

Eric Sievers, David Rose & Shaun Nichols

Description: There are two main families of views concerning causation: dependence and production theories.  Dependence theories hold that causation is to be explicated in terms of counterfactual dependence between cause and effect while production theories hold that there is some kind of direct process that flows from cause to effect.  A range of research indicates that the way people ordinarily use the word “cause” corresponds closely to a dependence rather than a production notion of causation. Yet one striking feature of almost all experimental work on causal judgment is that it is conducted using the word “cause”.  However much of our causal discourse is not framed using the general term “cause”, but instead with more special causal terms like “scrape”, “burn”, and “knock over”. Our hypothesis is that while the word “cause” might well fit with a dependence notion of causation, special causal verbs like “burn” might fit better with a production-based notion of causation. This is what we found across two different studies.  Our findings suggest that when we consider a wider range of causal verbs, production plays a major part in commonsense notions of causation.


4. Right Actions for the Wrong Reasons: Motivating Reasons in Judgments of Moral Goodness

Christopher J. Kalbach & Emmanuel Smith

Description: According to research by Christina Starmans and Paul Bloom, internal conflict drives judgments of an agent’s goodness. Thus, if two people who did the same thing, then the one who does it after overcoming an internal conflict is judged ‘more good.’ However, we find that there is a factor that is overlooked: motivating reasons. We argue that it is not the internal conflict, but the responsiveness to the right kinds of reasons that drive these judgments. By controlling for kinds of reasons, we find that the effect of conflict disappears. This gives strong evidence that it is reasons responsiveness and not conflict that drives responses.


5. The Folk Concept of Well-being

Jorge Pablo Oseguera Gamba

Description: Do people’s intuitions about well-being match any of the philosophical theories? There are three traditional theories of well-being. The hedonist takes well-being to essentially involve pleasure (and a lack of pain); for the desire-satisfaction theorist, what is important is satisfying one’s desires; and for the Aristotelian, it is necessary to be virtuous in order  to have well-being. We have conducted studies that suggest that the folk concept of well-being does not match any of these concepts of well-being. In fact, it appears that there is great diversity in people's folk understanding of well-being, but very few people think about well-being in the way the hedonist, the desire-satisfaction theorist, and Aristotelian would recommend, though the central elements of each theory seem to be important for well-being. Therefore, the theories that resemble the folk concept the most are the objective list theory and the positive causal network theory. Recently, some scholars have argued that the folk concept of well-being is a dual-character concept. For this type of concept there are two different ways of characterizing members of the category to which it applies: one, through its concrete features, and two, through the abstract value that these features realize. Our results suggest this is not an accurate description of the folk concept, either. This type of research can inform philosophical theorizing about well-being by helping us better understand intuitions on this topic. But it can also inform Public Policy and theories in Economics by telling us what views of well-being people actually have.


6. Great Minds Do Not Think Alike: Individual Differences In Philosophers’ Trait Reflection, Education, and Philosophical Beliefs

Nick Byrd

Abstract: Prior research found correlations between reflection test performance and philosophical beliefs among lay people. In two large studies (total N > 1200)—one pre-registered replication and extension, many of these correlations were found among philosophers. For example, less reflective philosophers preferred theism over atheism (a la Pennycook et al., 2016) and instrumental harm over harm avoidance on the trolley problem (a la Hannikainen & Cova, in prep.;). However, some of these reflection-philosophy correlations were undetected when controlling for factors like education, gender, numeracy, and personality. Moreover, remaining correlations between reflection and philosophical beliefs were partially mediated by education and self-reported actively open-minded thinking. So although some relationships between reflection and philosophical belief remained robust among philosophers, there is more to the link between reflection and philosophy than previously understood. Normative implications are also discussed—e.g., obstacles to inferring the quality of philosophical beliefs from their correlations with reflection test performance.


7. Can people learn to reason better?

Michael Bishop & Paul Conway

Abstract: Various studies have shown that people can be trained to reason better about problems that call for the use of the law of large numbers and the sunk cost principle. Most are limited in two ways. Training is limited to one rule; and delayed tests, when given, measure relatively short-term effects (typically 2-4 weeks). Our questions are:

(1) Can people be trained to reason better about a wide range of rules?

(2) And if so, how long do beneficial training effects last?

Our results suggest that (1) people can be trained to reason considerably better about causation, regression, sunk costs, and opportunity costs; and (2) robust training effects last at least four months after training is complete. Our study found no training effect on the gambler’s fallacy.

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