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Comparative metaphysics: the development of representing natural and normative regularities in human and non-human primates

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Abstract

How do human children come up to carve up and think of the world around them in its most general and abstract structure? And to which degree are these general forms of viewing the world shared by other animals, notably by non-human primates? In response to these questions of what could be called comparative metaphysics, this paper discusses new evidence from developmental and comparative research to argue for the following picture: human children and non-human primates share a basic framework of natural ontology: they think about their natural surroundings in essentialist ways in terms of natural kind objects constituted by their essential properties, and in generic terms as governed by general descriptive regularities. In contrast, there is a great divide when it comes to how human children and non-human primates carve up their social environment: only human children then go on to use their essentialist and generic thinking for developing a distinctively social ontology, to conceive of their surrounding in terms of socially constituted objects governed by general prescriptive norms.

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Notes

  1. Whether the two types of rules really are categorically different, or whether there actually is a meaningful distinction to be made here, are of course controversial philosophical questions (see, e.g. (Hindriks 2009). These need not concern us here, however, since what matters for present purposes is that understanding human social practices with the conventional use of objects requires an understanding of the normative rules of those practices, be they regulative, constitutive or both.

  2. This holds within limits, of course. There are boundary conditions such that only physical objects that we can perceive and in some way deal with, for example, can acquire status functions. The crucial point, though, is that within these limits, the physical properties of the objects are largely irrelevant.

  3. For some potential precursors, see (Rudolf von Rohr et al. 2011)

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Correspondence to Hannes Rakoczy.

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Some of the material presented in this paper was previously used in Rakoczy & Schmidt (2013).

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Rakoczy, H. Comparative metaphysics: the development of representing natural and normative regularities in human and non-human primates. Phenom Cogn Sci 14, 683–697 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-014-9406-7

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