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Folk Teleology
Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status
Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the literature on folk teleology. Both
theorerical and empirical works will be discussed, focusing on the cognitive aspects of
teleological interpretation and explanation of various phenomena. The format of the
course is a discussion seminar centred around seminal and more recent readings on
the topic.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, students should have an overview on when and how humans
deploy teleological interpretations and explanations, and should be aware of the
key theoretical issues related to the nature and cognitive mechanisms of these


Students are required to attend classes regularly and to participate actively in seminar
discussions. Students are also required to give one or two short presentations of some
chosen topic(s) and lead the following discussion. Finally, students are required to
submit a term-paper (about 3000 words) in a topic agreed in advance by the instructor.
The final grade will be composed of evaluations of these three elements in the
following proportions:
Participation in class discussion (20%)
Presenting papers and leading discussion (30%)
End-of-term essay (50%), deadline for submission: December 18, 2023

Allen, K., Ibara, S., Seymour, A., Cordova, N., & Botvinick, M. (2010). Abstract structural
representations of goal-directed behavior. Psychological Science, 21, 1518-1524. http://
Baker, C. L., Saxe, R., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (2009). Action understanding as inverse
planning. Cognition, 113(3), 329-349.
Casler, K., & Kelemen, D. (2005) Young children’s rapid learning about artifacts. Developmental Science,
8, 472-480.
Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (1998). The teleological origins of mentalistic action explanations: A
developmental hypothesis. Developmental Science, 1, 255-259.
Csibra, G. & Gergely, G. (2007). 'Obsessed with goals': Functions and mechanisms of teleological
interpretation of actions in humans. Acta Psychologica, 124, 60-78.
De Smedt, J. & De Cruz, H. (2020a). Is intuitive teleological reasoning promiscuous? In W. Gibson, D.
O’Brien, & M. Turda (Eds.) Teleology ans Modernity (pp. 185-203). Routledge.
De Smedt, J. & De Cruz, H. (2020b). Chapter 2 in The Challenge of Evolution in Religion. Cambridge
University Press.
Hernik, M. & Csibra, G. (2009). Functional understanding facilitates learning about tools in human
children. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 19, 34-38.
Järnefelt, E., Canfield, C. F., & Kelemen, D. 2015). The divided mind of a disbeliever: Intuitive beliefs
about nature as purposefully created among different groups of non-religious adults. Cognition, 140,
Joo, S., Yousif, S. R., & Knobe, J. (in press). Teleology beyond explanation. Mind & Language. https://
Kelemen, D. (1999). Function, goals and intention: children’s teleological reasoning about objects.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3(12), 461-468.
Kelemen, D., Rottman, J., & Seston, R. (2013). Professional physical scientists display tenacious
teleological tendencies: Purpose-based reasoning as a cognitive default. Journal of Experimental
Psychology: General, 142(4), 1074–1083.
Lakusta, L. & DiFabrizio, S. (2017). And, the Winner Is...A Visual Preference for Endpoints over
Starting Points in Infants’ Motion Event Representations. Infancy, 22(3), 323-343. http://
Lakusta, L., & Landau, B. (2012). Language and memory for motion events: Origins of the asymmetry
between source and goal paths. Cognitive Science, 36(3), 517–544.
ojalehto, b., Waxman, S. R., & Medin, D. L. (2013). Tele- ological reasoning about nature: Intentional
design or relational perspectives? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(4), 166–171.
Lombrozo, T. (2010). Causal-explanatory pluralism: How intentions, functions, and mechanisms
influence causal ascriptions. Cognitive Psychology, 61(4), 303-332.
Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, B. (2012). Functions in biological kind classification. Cognitive Psychology, 65(4),
Perner, J., Priewasser, B., & Roessler, J. (2018). The practical other: teleology and its development.
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 43(2), 99-114.
Rissman, L., Majid, A. (2019). Thematic roles: Core knowledge or linguistic construct?. Psychonomic
Bulletin & Review, 26, 1850–1869.
Rose, D., Schaffer, J., & Tobia, K. (2020). Folk teleology drives persistence judgments. Synthese, 197,
Wagner-Egger, P., Delouvée, S., Gauvrit, N., & Dieguez, S. (2018). Creationism and conspiracism
share a common teleological bias. Current Biology, 28(16), R867-R868.

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