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Description: Certain “generic” generalizations concern functions and purposes, e.g., /cars are for driving/. Some functional properties yield unacceptable teleological generics: for instance, /cars are for parking/ seems false even though people park cars as often as they drive them. No theory of teleology in philosophy or psychology can explain what makes teleological generics acceptable. However, a recent theory (Prasada, 2017; Prasada & Dillingham, 2006; Prasada et al., 2013) argues that a certain type of mental representation – a “principled” connection between a kind and a property – licenses generic generalizations. The account predicts that people should accept teleological generics that describe kinds and properties linked by a principled connection. Under the analysis, /car/ bears a principled connection to /driving/ (a car’s primary purpose) and a non-principled connection to /parking/ (an incidental consequence of driving). We report four experiments that tested and corroborated the theory’s predictions, and we describe a regression analysis that rules out alternative accounts. We conclude by showing how the theory we developed can serve as the foundation for a general theory of teleological thinking.
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