Perceptions of Persons and Their Purposes: Teleological Patterns in Inferences About Personal Identity
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Five studies tested for evidence of teleological (i.e., function- or purpose-based) reasoning in the folk psychology of personal identity. Specifically, these studies tested the hypothesis that teleological processes give rise to previously-documented normativity-based patterns in reasoning about personal identity (specifically the findings that morally-relevant characteristics are seen as more central to identity than morally-irrelevant characteristics, and that people’s true selves are assumed to be morally good by default). Overall, this investigation yielded clear evidence that teleological reasoning is at play in how people think about personal identity, and that teleological and normative judgments are intertwined in this domain. However, the evidence did not clearly show that teleology completely explains normativity-based patterns. In an initial study, moral character traits were perceived as more identity-relevant than non-moral traits, replicating prior research, and were also judged to be more purpose-relevant. Furthermore, perceptions of purpose-relevance were found to statistically mediate the relationship between traits’ morality and identity-relevance. In a second study, a general-level manipulation of teleological thinking did not significantly affect identity-related judgments in cases of moral change, but some patterns in the data suggested that stronger studies taking a similar approach might have promise. A third study found that suggesting that the pursuit of knowledge is the purpose of human life led participants to see a decline in intelligence (a knowledge-related trait) as somewhat more disruptive to identity persistence, and to see a moral decline as somewhat less disruptive to identity persistence. However, an unanticipated issue with the control condition in this study precludes drawing strong conclusions from these results. In two final studies, whether or not fictional targets continued to fulfill central social-role functions was found to impact judgments about their authenticity and identity persistence across cases of negative and positive moral and non-moral personal change. In these two final studies, it was also found that teleological considerations (i.e., whether targets continued to fulfill their roles) affected moral evaluations of the targets, and that normative considerations (i.e., whether targets underwent moral vs. non-moral changes) affected the extent to which targets were seen as upholding their purpose in life.
Christy, Andrew Gregory (2018). Perceptions of Persons and Their Purposes: Teleological Patterns in Inferences About Personal Identity. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from