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Supernatural AgentsWhy We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas$
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Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195380026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380026.001.0001

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Her Ideas of His Ideas of Their Ideas …

(p.3) 1 Religion
Supernatural Agents

Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents the ideas of agency, intentionality, and teleo-functional reasoning. Agency is something we infer from the regular patterns we observe in an entity’s behavior. Such patterns trigger assumptions about animacy (liveliness, self-propelledness) and may also lead to attribution mentality (beliefs and desires) to the behaving entity. Agency is something that is inferred; therefore it is immaterial and detached from a bodily implementation. Observing regular patterns also in purely natural events may trigger assumptions about invisible agents responsible for this apparent order. Such proclivity to “promiscuous teleology” makes concepts of supernatural agents salient and easy to adopt. Supernatural agents are also believed to have open access to all minds and thus to know everybody’s thoughts. Such omniscience is explained by combining Tylor’s idea of religion as belief in spirits with Durkheim’s idea of religion as the social “glue” that ties a group of people together.

Keywords:   agency, animacy, mentality, intentionality, promiscuous teleology, Durkheim, Tylor, body

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