The Limits of Teleology in Aristotle’s Meteorology IV.12

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 4 (2):335-50 (2014)
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Abstract

Meteorology IV.12, the final chapter of Aristotle’s “chemical” treatise, is a major text for the traditional view that Aristotle believed in universal teleology, the idea that everything in the cosmos—including the elements, earth, water, air, and fire—is what it is because of the goal or good it serves. But in the context of the rest of Meteorology IV, a different picture emerges. Meteorology IV.1–11 analyze the dispositional properties of material compounds (malleability, elasticity, etc.), examine the behavior of stuffs when heated and cooled, and provide the resources to classify kinds in terms of their material composition and dispositional properties. Meteorology IV.12 places itself within that larger investigation but takes a different approach, examining those same materials from the perspective of their functions in bodies of greater complexity (e.g., the function of flesh in an organism). I argue that the teleological account of, say, the elements is limited to their function in the composition of complex kinds, such as living organisms, and that outside such a complex the elements behave as they do, not for the sake of some good they serve but “of necessity,” according to their material natures and interactions with other materials.

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Mary-Louise Gill
Brown University

Citations of this work

What is Matter in Aristotle's Hylomorphism?Christian Pfeiffer - 2021 - Ancient Philosophy Today 3 (2):148-171.

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