Teleology and the Norms of Nature

Garland Pub. (2000)
This work is an examination of teleological attributions (i.e. ascriptions of proper functions and natural ends) to the features and behavior of living things, with a view ultimately to understanding their application to human life and the significance they may or may not have for an understanding of human nature and values. The author argues that such teleological attributions do indeed apply to living things, including human beings, and that this sheds substantial light on what living things are; interestingly, it also reveals the existence of objective, species-relative norms in nature-standards of a certain kinds of goodness or badness inherent in the natures of living things. A large part of the work is devoted to arguing for an account of natural teleology that is both biologically responsible and sensitive to a number of distinctively philosophical concerns. This account makes a unique contribution to the literature in the philosophy of biology by incorporating a detailed concern with evolutionary cause history without embracing the overly reductionistic tendencies of other evolutionary oriented views. One important upshot of the account is that an organism's natural proper function-whether physiological or behavioral-cannot be understood as being generally or ultimately welfare-oriented, but must be understood on a very different model. It is this that the author argues ultimately undermines any attempt (still popular among some neo-Aristotelians) to appeal to natural standards of proper functioning in human life, at the level of character and action, to underwrite ethical judgements about human goodness or badness. It also shows that while natural teleology in human life reveals something important about what we are, this misses another crucial side of human nature, which enables us largely to transcend our natural ends and is what makes for the possibility of genuine moral agency.
Keywords Ethics  Natural selection  Teleology  Naturalism
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Call number BJ58.F58 2000
ISBN(s) 0815336020   9780815336020
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Scott Woodcock (2014). Neo-Aristotelian Naturalism and the Indeterminacy Objection. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 23 (1):20-41.
Robert Arp (2007). Evolution and Two Popular Proposals for the Definition of Function. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 38 (1):19 - 30.

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