The Monist 75 (1):34-51 (1992)

Mark Bedau
Reed College
We can readily identify goal-directed systems and distinguish them from non-goal-directed systems. A woodpecker hunting for grubs is the first, a pendulum returning to rest is the second. But what is it to be a goal-directed system? Perhaps the dominant answer to this question, inspired by systems theories such as cybernetics, is that goal-directed systems are distinguished by their tendency to seek, aim at, or maintain some more-or-less easily identifiable goal. Cybernetics and the like would hold that physical systems subject only to physical laws can exhibit such behavior. If sound, this systems approach to teleology would unify a diverse range of goal-directed phenomena and neatly side-step many traditional bogey-men of teleology, such as anthropomorphism and future causation. Goal-directed phenomena would be a normal feature of the natural causal world that could be described in purely descriptive and quantitative terms, and receive ordinary causal explanations. Thus, the systems approach promises to provide a naturalistic-cum-descriptive account of teleology suitable for use in naturalistic accounts of other phenomena, including the intentionality of mental states and even self-consciousness.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest  Philosophy of Mind  Philosophy of Science
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s) 0026-9662
DOI 10.5840/monist19927516
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 60,750
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Minds, Brains, and Programs.John R. Searle - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):417-57.
The Case for Animal Rights.Tom Regan - 1983 - University of California Press, C1983.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Representation in Cognitive Science.Nicholas Shea - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
An Organizational Account of Biological Functions.Matteo Mossio, Cristian Saborido & Alvaro Moreno - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (4):813-841.
Naturalism About Health and Disease: Adding Nuance for Progress.Elselijn Kingma - 2014 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 39 (6):590-608.

View all 23 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Wants and Lacks.Gareth B. Matthews & S. Marc Cohen - 1967 - Journal of Philosophy 64 (14):455-456.
Basic Goal Distinctions.Kentaro Fujita & Karen E. MacGregor - 2012 - In Henk Aarts & Andrew J. Elliot (eds.), Goal-Directed Behavior. Psychology Press.
Goal Gradients, Expectancy, and Value.Nira Liberman & Jes Förster - 2012 - In Henk Aarts & Andrew J. Elliot (eds.), Goal-Directed Behavior. Psychology Press.
Conscious and Unconscious Processes in Goal Pursuit.Ruud Custers, Baruch Eitam & John A. Bargh - 2012 - In Henk Aarts & Andrew J. Elliot (eds.), Goal-Directed Behavior. Psychology Press.


Added to PP index

Total views
73 ( #142,695 of 2,438,717 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #167,451 of 2,438,717 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes